Turlock High girls advance in soccer playoffs thanks to Latham’s 3 goals

TURLOCK — Tokay High's belief was that stopping Sara Latham would stop Turlock in Friday's Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 playoff match.

Of course, the Tigers would have to catch Latham before they could stop the Bulldogs' top scorer: They never did.

Latham celebrated the Bulldogs' postseason opener with a hat trick and goalie Andrea Rosas was sharp in a 3-1 win.

Turlock (18-0-2) is hosting Enochs (17-2-1) in Tuesday's quarterfinal featuring conference champs. It's a rematch of last year's quarterfinal — a 2-1 Enochs win in overtime.

Turlock coach Doug Sperry doesn't recall much of that defeat, because he wasn't there. He became the 'Dogs coach three weeks ago after Dennis Bishop resigned for health reasons. Sperry is now 6-0.

"Enochs is very quick, like us, and they're aggressive" said Sperry, whose team rarely faced a faster or more aggressive team this season. "It will be good to play at home."

Latham struck 23 minutes in, charging into the middle for a pass from Emily Thompson. Latham beat a defender in front of her, then kicked it past the goalie for a 1-0 lead.

"One of the reasons Sara is so difficult to stop is that we have her in a lot of places up top," Sperry said. "She is capable of taking the ball either direction, where many girls are one-dimensional, they go right or left. Having to worry about a girl who can do both puts pressure on a defense."

She made it 2-0 with 5 minutes left in the 40-minute half, as Alissa Dahl centered the ball from the right sideline. Latham again darted in, took the pass and had it in the net before the Tigers could react.

"Sara's amazing with a ball at her feet, especially if she's got open space," Sperry said. "She can control a game with her speed, but the key is Sara is a great finisher. She knows what to do around the goal."

Tokay cut its deficit in half on Holly Rankin's goal midway through the second half, but Latham capped her memorable day by scoring with 8 minutes left to clinch the win.

"When Tokay got that goal, it got us a little down, but the hot weather was affecting us both," Sperry said. "Cassidy (Costa), though, picked us up with great plays on defense, then Sara scored one more."

Rosas had seven saves, but Sperry said her role as a vocal leader was just as crucial: "She's a quiet girl, until you get her on the field, and then you hear her. She's very athletic, which allows her to get to balls other goalies can't."

Rosas has held 16 of 19 foes to a goal or less, and the only blemishes on her record are two ties with Central California Conference rival Merced.