State

Fifth draw sends Merced to playoffs

Most coaches appreciate winning, but Merced's Brooke Wilson is OK with ties.

His Bears were unbeaten in the Central California Conference going into Wednesday, but still faced a do-or-die situation because of their four draws.

They took another draw vs. Pitman, but the scoreless regular-season finale is OK with the Bears because it clinched second place and sends them to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs.

"I'll take the tie right now," Wilson said. "I was so nervous. I've been nervous since I got to work this morning."

Merced and Pitman entered the match fighting for the CCC's second and final playoff berth — conference champion Turlock clinched the top seed last week.

Holding a two-point lead, all Merced needed was a win or a draw. Pitman had to win to leapfrog Merced into second.

Merced (10-1-5, 7-0-5) didn't make a big effort to score, sinking back on defense, and Pitman (7-2-3 CCC) was unable to break through the defensive alignment.

Five-time defending CCC champ Turlock and Merced open the playoffs May 14; Turlock hosts and the Bears travel.

Pitman put a scare into Merced early, creating the game's best scoring chances in the first eight minutes.

Merced goalie Stephanie Isenberg broke up a 1-on-1 attempt in the third minute with a kick save at the edge of the 6-yard box on a low-driven shot.

Five minutes later, she made a full-extension stop on a shot by Hannah Verschelden, tipping the ball with the tips of her fingers. It was enough to push it off line, bouncing off the left post.

With the wind at its back in the second half, Pitman's relentless attacking kept Merced pinned back in its own goal and made sure Isenberg was on her toes.

"I hate tying. It's not winning, but it's not losing," Isenberg said. "It's the halfway point. It's like, what is it? ... But at least this one got us something."

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