Madera pulls off epic playoff win, led by unlikely hero


Courtesy of Christopher Cross

Madera’s emergency goalkeeper Evangelina Garcia gets ready for a penalty kick during Wednesday’s overtime thriller. Garcia blocked the potential tying kick to send the Coyotes into the Div. II quarterfinals.

 

A Hollywood-type script unfolded when the Madera Coyotes girls soccer team hosted El Diamante-Visalia in the first round of the CIF Central Section Div. II playoffs


The star of the show was Evangelina Garcia, a senior centerback who stepped in as the emergency keeper and came up big during the penalty shootout to help Madera advance Wednesday night in Memorial Stadium.


Garcia, who said she hasn’t played goalkeeper since she was about 5-years-old, was asked to fill the position this week after the Coyotes lost two of their keepers due to injury.


With only two days of training before Wednesday’s epic clash, Garcia’s nerves were at an all-time high. She continued to grow more anxious as the game went to overtime, followed by a golden goal period. Then came the penalty shootout. But after five kicks for each time, the game still wasn’t decided.


At that point, the anxious keeper had broken out into tears. Her teammates and the home crowd, however, did their best to encourage the athlete.


“You got this, EG,” they said.


With her supporters behind her, Garcia stepped in the box to stop one more kick from the Miners.


“I was extremely nervous. I just kept crying and crying,” Garcia said. “Then I was like ‘No wait, I got this, I got this.’”


As she managed to compose herself, Garcia strategized her next move like a seasoned keeper.


“I was looking at her body and I couldn’t really tell where she was going. Usually when I can’t tell where they’re going, they’re going to the middle, so I was like ‘I’m just gonna stay.’ And I had my stance and I put my arms up and threw it over,” the keeper said after making the save that would finally end the classic duel.


While pandemonium broke out at Memorial Stadium, the heroic athlete was mobbed by her teammates on the field. She then found herself crying some more. But this time, it was tears of jubilation.


“I just love my team and I’m happy that we’re going to the second round of the playoffs,” Garcia said.


The match clearly ended with the heroics of a player who was thrusted into an unfamiliar position. But it started with Adriana Dana, a junior who is very familiar with big moments. Dana scored early in the game to give the Coyotes a 1-0 lead. The junior converted another crucial goal in overtime to give the Coyotes a 2-1 lead before El Diamante tied it.


As the match remained tied after overtime and after the golden goal period, Dana stepped up again during the penalty shootout. This time, the junior calmly tucked the ball into the lower right corner of the goal.


The shootout started with Madera’s Mariah Zapata converting the first kick. El Diamante then followed up with a shot that sailed over the bar. Sheyla Posos scored the next attempt for the Coyotes. After the Miners succeeded on their second shot, the following attempt from Madera’s Alexya Lugo-Sulca went wide.


The teams remained deadlocked when Madison Barba successfully responded to another El Diamante goal. Still, nothing was decided after Dana scored on the Coyotes’ next shot.


The drama continued in extra penalty kicks when Madera’s Atiana Pinon missed her shot. El Diamante then had a shot to close out the game on the next attempt. Garcia, however, kept the Coyotes alive, diving to her left to block the potential game-winner.


Junior Samantha Ruiz then stepped up to the spot and delivered for the Coyotes. Garcia took it from there, making the final save to put the finishing touches on an unforgettable battle.


“She did well,” Madera head coach Cameron Hill said about Garcia. “She is, I guess, our third keeper.”


Hill also tried to remain composed as he stood on the sidelines during the tense moments.


“You just want what’s best for the girls,” he said. “I was a little nervous because you don’t have control when you’re coaching and you’re not playing. You have control a little bit, but as a player, you can physically do it.”


Still, the coach had plenty of faith in his experienced players and the newly appointed keeper.


“I think it was because I know how to dive and I’m pretty tall, so I can like reach the corners,” Garcia said as she explained why her coaches chose her for the position.


The senior, not only stepped up in the final moments, but also came up with crucial saves throughout the match.


El Diamante scored its first goal on a dazzling free kick from with 15 minutes left in regulation. Sami Cloutier added the Miners’ second goal in the final minute of the first overtime period, tying the match.


But in the end, it was Garcia’s time to shine.


“It takes my team’s encouragement. That boosts my confidence to say like ‘I got this.’ If my team believes in me, then I believe in myself. And you saw, I blocked it,” the ecstatic keeper said. “I feel like my team’s encouragement and love and support for me — that I was playing keeper, that I haven’t played in God knows how long — it was just their encouragement that helped.”


The Coyotes surely produced an unforgettable memory for their community. And Garcia found a story she can tell for many years to come.


“It is very, very special,” the heroic keeper said about the epic victory. “I’ve experienced this rush, but not this big of a rush. It just felt amazing.”

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