Granada-Freedom match full of drama

The Freedom-Granada girls soccer game ended too late for press time on Wednesday night in Oakley. But I did get a chance to interview Falcons coach Paco Gonzalez in a darkened parking lot after his team’s thrilling 6-5 win in a shootout after a 2-2 draw in the first round of the NCS Division I playoffs.

“My girls pulled in there,” Gonzalez said proudly. “We had a game plan and they stayed with it to the end, the very end. Granada’s a great team. We live and die with our defense. … They held them. They shut them out for 77 minutes.”

On a windy and chilly night, the intense match dragged on through 80 minutes of regulation play and two 10-minute overtimes before the teams each made four attempts in a best-of-5 shootout, then Freedom made its next two attempts in sudden death to advance to Saturday’s quarterfinals against No. 1 seed San Ramon Valley.

Granada had a victory on its foot in the best-of-5 shootout, but Freedom goalkeeper Tess Harrington, a freshman, saved Racquel Hamblen’s attempt in the fifth round, keeping the score 4-3. Then Angel Gosse converted to tie it 4-4 and force sudden death.

Granada’s Jasmine MacDonald converted to make it 5-4, putting the pressure on Freedom freshman Brielynn Tovani, who converted to keep her team alive. Granada’s next player missed, and Freedom’s senior defender and captain Haley Vredenburgh touched off a celebration with a goal.

The game showed a contrast in styles. Granada was more technical with a surgical attacking, and the Falcons were big, physical and athletic, with enough skill to deliver in the big moment. Granada beat Freedom 3-1 earlier in the season, but the Matadors lacked some key pieces in the playoffs, including Brooke Rittmann, the front-runner as EBAL MVP before she went down with an injury. Her sister, Granada midfielder Breanna Rittmann, had a solid match in her high school finale, with strong attacking, passing and defending.

In the compelling rematch, Freedom’s Gosse, who is headed to Humboldt State, and Granada’s Taylor Huston each scored two brilliant goals in the second half. Then it came down to guts and a roll of the dice in the shootout.

“We just tried to make life complicated for them, try to step in their passing lanes and win balls,” Gonzalez said of his tactics. “Basically the game plan was to stay patient and take advantage of our chances. Angel had two phenomenal goals.”

Now it’s on to the next round …

Matt Schwab