Long Beach Poly certainly had its chances against Sunny Hills in a Division 2 girls’ soccer semifinal hosted at Wilson High on Saturday afternoon, but the Jackrabbits came up one moment short of their first CIF-SS championship game in more than two decades. Strong wind created and suffocated plenty of chances in a scoreless game that went Sunny Hills’ way on a penalty kicks tiebreaker, 4-3.
“It’s never a good look to lose in PKs,” said Poly coach Anthony Perez. “That’s always going to be tough to swallow. I’d rather lose in the play of game.”
With a wind blowing steadily at 20-25 miles per hour from west to east, the teams each only had one half of the game where they had a real shot at scoring. At one point a Sunny Hills defender tried a throw-in into the wind only to have it die mid-flight, causing her to shout, “I can’t throw it.”
For that reason, Sunny Hills head coach Jeff Gordon told his team to choose the side of the field with the wind at their back for the first half.
“We were hoping to get a goal early and then stay up on them, because they’re unbelievable,” said Gordon. “They were every bit and then some.”
Sunny Hills had a few chances but Poly goalie Kira Ybarra had four saves in an action-packed first half. In the second half, Poly dominated but couldn’t find the net.
“I think possession was close to 90% for us in the second half and they maybe moved the ball into our half three times,” said Perez. “But sometimes the game is like that, we just couldn’t find the net.”
Poly had eight corner kicks and a pair of free kicks from Morgan King that banged just high off the crossbar. They spent the second half peppering the frame, but came up empty. Both teams had chances in overtime before the 20 minutes ran out and went to everyone’s favorite/least favorite tiebreaker in sports: penalty kicks.
Ybarra actually took Poly’s first PK and converted it, as the Jackrabbits kicked first. The two teams were tied at 3-3 after three rounds, before Sunny Hills goalie Priscilla Avila came up with a big save. The next try for PK sailed high, however, putting the PKs into the fifth round with the two teams tied at five. Poly’s attempt went just wide left, and Sunny Hills put theirs in, earning a spot in their seventh CIF-SS title game in 29 years under Gordon.
“It’s special for us, we have the date of the CIF championship game on the back of our practice jerseys because that’s what we’re playing for all year,” he said.
For Poly, it will be a frustrating week of thinking about what could have been before the CIF State brackets are released next Sunday; Perez said he expects the Jackrabbits to receive a berth into the Division II tournament.