Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Madera’s Itzel Rodriguez keeps possession during Wednesday’s overtime victory over the Bakersfield Drillers.
When the going gets tough, it’s best to rely on the ones that got you there and for the Madera Coyotes girls soccer team that meant getting the ball to Itzel Rodriguez.
With the game tied at two and the fourth overtime period ticking away, Rodriguez put a stamp on her season with a golden strike inside the penalty area to defeat the 11th-seeded Bakersfield Drillers, 3-2, in Memorial Stadium in the first round of the Div. II playoffs.
“Right when she took the touch inside, I knew she’d hit. It didn’t matter if she got a lot of contact, but when I saw it leave her foot, I thought it was going in,” Madera head coach Cameron Hill said on the golden goal. “She’s a special, special player, a very special player.”
Rodriguez and Destiny Barajas scored all the goals for the sixth-seeded Coyotes. But the unsung heroes of the match were the providers — Penelopi Leach and Klarissa Ramos, who assisted on all three goals.
The Hawks faced no. 3 Liberty on Friday in a quarterfinal match.
Throughout the 2018-19 season, the Coyotes faced off with some of the best competition in the Central Valley by playing in the County/Metro Athletic Conference — Bullard-Fresno, San Joaquin Memorial-Fresno and Edison-Fresno. In each of those matches, the Coyotes went toe-to-toe, hardening their resolve.
That resolve paid off after two of the goals they scored either tied the game or took the lead.
“We’re battle tested and we’ve played some tough teams,” Hill said. “We know we have good players and we know we can hang with anybody. Our team will fight and fight until the end.”
Before Rodriguez opened the scoring in the 27th minute, the Coyotes had a chance to put one on the board.
Madera had five straight chances from the corner kick 20 minutes into the match but couldn’t find an answer in the box. The Drillers’ size and strength in the box prevented the Coyotes from heading one in, but Madera’s constant pressure inside the opposing side of the field caused the Drillers to break.
Ramos got behind the Drillers’ defense. She sprinted down the left wing with the ball, before sliding the ball into the path of Rodriguez, who made a run into the box.
Rodriguez connected on a low crossing and fired a shot past the Drillers’ goalkeeper for Madera’s first goal.
Bakersfield tried a corner kick, a free kick and utilized the run of play, but couldn’t crack the Coyotes defense and goalkeeper Yesenia Montoya.
Bakersfield benefitted from the referee’s whistle in the second half after two decisions by the official led directly to two Bakersfield goals.
The first, Madera was called for a pushing foul after a Coyote defender leaped up to head the ball, knocking the Drillers forward to the ground.
Although both players went up to fight for the ball, the Coyotes were whistled for the foul. The ball was placed 10 yards outside the penalty area for Bakersfield and that was all they needed as the Drillers sent in a near-perfect free kick to tie the game at one.
Madera needed a boost and Leach provided that lift.
The forward nearly took the game back for the Coyotes in the second half after two chances nearly made their way through.
Leach used her speed to fly past two Bakersfield defenders into the penalty area before firing low into the path of the Drillers goalkeeper who denied the shot.
The Coyotes funneled their attack through Leach for a second consecutive chance after Rodriguez played Leach into the penalty area.
Leach had to take the shot with her left foot, forcing the Drillers’ goalkeeper to spread out for the save. She stretched her left leg, clipping the ball with her foot to deny the Coyotes their game-winning goal.
The game descended into overtime where the Drillers scored in the first period to take a 2-1 lead.
Barajas saved the Coyotes season in the second overtime period with a close-range goal that sent the game into another extra period.
Leach found Barajas in the penalty area with a short pass before Barajas swung through the ball and into the net.
The teams next played in two five-minute sudden death overtime periods.
The first period came and went, but the second period featured a bit of magic the Coyotes were all too familiar with.
With penalty kicks looming, Leach flicked a ball into the feet of Rodriguez who held her position inside the penalty area.
Rodriguez collected the ball and executed a skillful turn before firing past the Drillers goalkeeper for the win and send the Coyotes to the quarterfinals.