Sports

Merced soccer fading out of playoff picture

TURLOCK -- The Merced girls soccer team came into Thursday's game in complete control of its playoff chances.

Well, so much for that.

Merced now needs a major miracle after getting shut out by Turlock under the lights of Joe Debely Stadium.

Jordan Carlberg and Jessica Frahm each found the back of the net and Turlock claimed a share of the top spot in the Central California Conference with a 2-0 victory.

Turlock (8-1-1 CCC) has won four straight to move into a first-place tie with Pitman with two games left.

The co-leaders meet next Thursday in their regular season finale. The winner will clinch one of the two Division I berths allotted to the CCC.

"We started out slow, playing really inconsistent at the beginning of the season," Turlock coach Dennis Bishop said. "We were still winning games, but not by a lot.

"It's been an uphill battle, that's for sure. But now we've come into our own."

Carlberg broke Merced's spirits with an empty net goal in the 47th minute.

After missing most of the first half with an ankle injury, the slight forward beat Merced goalie Stephanie Isenberg to a 50-50 ball near the edge of the 18-yard box.

With a flick off her head, Carlberg pushed the ball around Isenberg and tapped it in for 1-0 lead.

"She's a lover of the game," Bishop said of his star forward. "That was something you can't teach. That was just internal desire taking over."

Frahm put the game on ice in the 64th minute, curling a cornerkick inside the back post.

All is not lost for Merced (7-3 CCC, 13-5-1), though their body language suggested otherwise.

"I'm not frustrated," Merced coach Brooke Wilson said. "This is one of the best game's we've played all season. Turlock is good and we fought with them.

"Am I disappointed we lost? Yeah, I'm disappointed -- but not with the way we played."

Merced will need a lot of help to reach the postseason for the first time in recent memory.

Wilson's girls must win their last two games -- home games against Atwater (Tuesday) and Golden Valley (Thursday) -- and then hope either Turlock or Pitman lose their last two.

"We're playing for pride," Wilson said. "Merced has never been this high (in the standings), not since I've been here.

"To put this all together and have this kind of season ... It's pretty insane."

Isenberg had 11 saves in the loss, including several point-blank stops.

Amanda Rodriguez had Merced's best scoring chance in the 67th minute, but her header from the 6-yard line sailed just high.

James Burns is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2417 or via e-mail at jburns@mercedsun-star.com.

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