STOCKTON -- With shoulders slumped forward and cheeks baked red from the sun, Kieli Rivera clapped her hands honestly, bowing to the better performance.
The senior probably could have summoned tears following Tuesday's 2-1 loss to Lincoln, but it wouldn't have mattered.
They would have evaporated in a flash. Kind of like the Bears' season.
Merced was eliminated from the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 soccer tournament by a lightning-quick goal in the final minutes of regulation -- a strike that came seconds after Merced thought it had the game-winner.
Kiki Muniz sprinted onto a through ball in the 77th minute and touched it around goalie Jessika McCleskey for an open-net goal that vaults the Trojans into a second-round throwdown with top-seeded St. Mary's.
Freshman Alyssa Deandra had a goal and an assist and goalie Izzy Rosania made two spectacular saves for Lincoln, which overcame an own goal in the 62nd minute.
For the Bears, the Central California Conference's No. 3 seed, a long, suffocating afternoon at Alex G. Spanos Stadium gave way to a parking lot full of long faces.
"I can sit here and make every excuse about the conditions," Merced coach Brooke Wilson said. "How it's so stinkin' hot or that we're a young team. ... We just didn't expect them to come out so quick. I mean, they were on us quick."
In the end, the difference was simple: Lincoln, with an offense predicated on knifing runs and pressure, made its shots.
Merced, well, it didn't make any. The Bears' only goal was a gift from Lincoln, and its best organic chances were snuffed out by Rosania, a converted volleyball player.
She slapped Bianca Reyes' first-half volley off the goal line, crashing into the side net in the process.
With a defender hugging her, Reyes struck a hip-high volley from the edge of the penalty area that beat Rosania. Initially. However, the lanky goalie back-tracked, timing her lunge perfectly.
"Give her credit," Wilson said. "She had a definite presence back there. That was an awesome save. If that shot had a little more heat on it, it would have gone in."
Later, with the match tied 1-1 in the 77th minute, Rosania used every inch of her reach to slow down Emma Martinez's long-range chip.
Lincoln quickly transitioned to offense. Deandra slipped a pass between Merced defenders Katie Cacabelos and Alyssa Lawry for Muniz, whose first touch beat a hard-charging McCleskey.