BY JOELLE MILHOLM Special to The Californian
McFARLAND -- On a night when Amelia Lopez wasn't feeling her best, she still managed to come up with the best play in Friday's CIF Central Section Division VI girls soccer championship match between No. 1 McFarland and No. 2 Hanford-Sierra Pacific.
With 5:28 remaining in the contest, Lopez sent a fast roller past Golden Bear goalkeeper Brianna Anaya and just inside the left post to give the Cougars a 1-0 victory to claim their first-ever section championship.
For McFarland's second-year head coach Alejandrina Campos-Gutierrez, it wasn't surprising that the game-winning goal came from the foot of Lopez, who has come up big for the Cougars (16-5-3) all season.
"Ever since she stepped on the field, she's been an awesome player," Campos-Gutierrez said. "She always gives 100 percent regardless if she is hurting or sick."
Lopez's goal was the product of a game-long assault on the Golden Bears (15-6-3). In the first half, the sophomore fired a laser shot off the crossbar for McFarland's only shot on goal in the half. In the Cougar-dominated second half, she pieced together a few more quality scoring opportunities and help set up shots on goal by Lupita Chavez and Ana Ortega, as well as one of her own.
With the clock ticking down below six minutes, the Cougars finally caught their break. Thanks to a pass down field from Chavez, Lopez saw a hole and took her shot.
"I just tried take the ball to the middle and then get it under the goalie," Lopez said.
The strategy paid off as the ball rolled into the back of the net and McFarland took a 1-0 lead. The Golden Bears didn't go down quietly however as they charged back down the field looking for the equalizer.
Despite retaining possession in the final minutes, they weren't able to get a good look at the goal and the Cougars held on to earn the right to hoist up their first Central Section championship.
"I am still in shock. It is overwhelming," Campos-Gutierrez said. "Going into the game I knew it was going to be an aggressive game. We just needed to keep going and I told them to work hard for it and show you want it."