A nail-biting overtime clincher gave the Richland women’s soccer team a hard-earned 2-1 victory over Brookhaven, the reigning national champions, to claim the district championship and cement their place in this year’s nationals.
Claudia Pedroza, a Richland sophomore, scored the game-winning goal six minutes into the overtime period. After the goal, her teammates mobbed her, jumping up and down with excitement. The women’s team will be going to the nationals for the first time since 2015.
“I can’t think of a word to explain it. It’s just a surreal moment that is going to stick with me forever. It’s something that I’m never going to forget, because we’ve been working so hard this season,” Pedroza said.
To gain a competitive edge, Richland head coach Scott Toups used an unfamiliar formation in the game. He reverted to the 4-3-3 he deployed last year over the 3-5-2 formation he had played throughout regular conference games this season.
Richland played Brookhaven five days before the District F final in a conference game, but he didn’t change the formation in that game.
“We had a plan for Brookhaven about a month ago. So even for that game on Monday, we knew what we wanted to do but we didn’t do it. We kept playing the same way that we had played all season. We kept the same lineup, the same structure, the same tactics, that way when we did see Brookhaven in that finals it would be something they had not seen from us all year,” said Toups.
Alexis Jordan and Pedroza played as forwards while Lizeth Ochoa and Citali Gonzalez took their places in defense.
“Speed kills. We knew that they weren’t the fastest backline. We knew they would struggle with Alexis Jordan, and so that was our plan. Put her up there and let her speed give them problems,” Toups said.
Toups was pleased with the victory.
“We are ecstatic. We are really excited. We had a special team this year and we knew that we were capable of beating a team like Brookhaven who all year, in our books, was the best team in the country,” he said.
“It was leadership that won us that game. The girls were exhausted, and they’d given everything they could. And it was the leaders on the team that just kept them going. ” Toups said.
It was the third consecutive District F final between the Richland Thunderducks and Brookhaven Bears. The atmosphere was rife with chants from spectators.
The match was tied at the end of regulation after goals from Richland’s Eva Mulligan and Brookhaven’s Erian Brown. The winner had to be decided by a golden goal in overtime.
Six minutes into that overtime the Thunderducks were pressing high. Brookhaven’s attempt to play were quickly shut down.
Richland’s Jordan picked up the ball at the edge of the box and set out on a marauding run down the flank. She shrugged off the attempts by the Brookhaven defense and put a cross in the penalty box. Pedroza was the quickest to react. She charged ahead of the Brookhaven defenders to tap in the game winner.
Miranda Ibarra, sophomore, is confident the current crop of players are better equipped to challenge for the nationals.
“I think this year, we are on the same boat. We all want the ring. We all want it as badly as the next person,” Ibarra said.
Toups echoed the same sentiments.
“This team knows how to win big games. I think they’re going in much more confident than that 2015 team that we had. We’ve got a little more depth and I think just the overall experience of learning how to win games has helped hem this year,” he said.
Richland is currently the No. 1 seeded DIII school in the nation. The Thunderducks will travel to Chicago for the national tournament taking place Nov. 8-13.