By TED SILLANPAA
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Middletown High used an inspired defensive effort Saturday to defeat Sonoma Academy and win the North Coast Section Division 3 girls soccer title, 2-0, at Clear Lake High.
The Mustangs earned the school’s first NCS soccer championship in finishing 20-0-1. The Coyotes played brilliantly in the first half before ending the season with a 9-4 mark.
“Our defense played exceptionally,” said Middletown coach Lee Hoage. “They didn’t give Sonoma Academy much room, especially in the second half. They really executed the game plan and turned up the intensity.”
Junior goalkeeper Jessie Flynn registered the shutout playing behind a stout defensive line led by Maria Castaldo, Maddie Kucer and Ashley Hart.
“Really, the entire defensive effort was just exceptional,” Hoage said.
Each team shot and hit the cross bar early in the first half that ended in a scoreless tie.
“It was really evenly matched,” Hoage said. “We missed some open looks and they got behind us a couple times, but couldn’t score.”
Things changed in the second half for Middletown.
“We talked about being more aggressive and really trying to win the ball after the first half,” Hoage said. “The offensive intensity just wasn’t there at the start.”
Junior star Hannah Diaz controlled a loose ball at the top of the box, then kicked it over the Sonoma Academy keeper’s head for Middletown’s first goal after intermission.
“It was a nice touch, placement kick by Hannah,” Hoage said. “We play through her and she did a great job.”
With the 1-0 lead, Middletown put an extra defender back to help preserve the lead.
“Sonoma Academy is a well-coached team. They’re very skilled,” Hoage said. “They played well. Our getting that first goal was a huge advantage.”
Freshman Kaleigh Alves scored the clincher for Middletown with 16 minutes left to play. She gained control of the ball around midfield, then dribbled past a defender and burst in for a score.
“She’s just been a brilliant freshman for us,” Hoage said.
The Middletown head coach was thrilled by his team’s second-half rally that included shutting down the Coyotes’ attack.
“I told them at halftime that it was going to be about will in the second half,” Hoage said. “It was going to be a matter of playing 40 minutes of really good soccer. They responded.”