Jadyn Shinn was hunting for an early goal. The Sierra High School sophomore wanted to attack the Merced defense before it settled in.
However, even the Timberwolves star didn’t think the goal would come so quick.
Shinn needed just 32 seconds, as she scored her 41st goal of the season on a pass from Jasmine Loaiza, to give No. 2 seed Sierra (25-2) a 1-0 lead that eventually stood up for the final score as the Timberwolves punched their ticket to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship game against top seed Vista Del Lago, which defeated No. 5 Vanden 3-0 in the other semifinal.
“We wanted to start off putting pressure on (Merced),” Shinn said. “We thought if we could pressure them they might be a little nervous with the ball. I saw an opportunity early. I tried to focus and take a good shot.”
It was a tough start for Merced (19-3-5), which was playing on the big stage for the first time in school history.
“My team wasn’t ready to play at the start of the whistle,” said Merced coach Bladimir Murillo. “We had a bad clearance that they put away.”
The early goal put Merced in a position to play catch-up the whole game against a tough Timberwolves team that did a good job of processing the ball for much of the first half.
The Bears’ best opportunity to score came on set pieces and in transition.
Merced freshman DeAnna Govea, who scored five goals in the Bears first two playoff wins, was once again the fastest player on the pitch.
The Bears tried to strike quickly in transition with long passes to Govea. The young forward had a great opportunity in the 38th minute when Carris Burgess set her up one-on-one with Timberwolves goalie Callie Crain, who came sprinting out of the box to try to intercept the pass.
Govea was able to flick the ball away from Crain, but was too heavy with the touch and the ball bounced away as Crain sprinted back in the box.
The Bears controlled the action early in the second half and Burgess had an opportunity for an equalizer in the 48th minute on another breakaway. However, her shot sailed over the crossbar.
“I was at a weird angle,” Burgess said. “Our team definitely needed that. I definitely felt I let my team down there. Those are chances I’m going to have to finish next year.”
The Timberwolves didn’t sit on the lead.
Shinn had two back-to-back near misses midway through the second half. Her second attempt hit the crossbar.
“At the beginning of their game their defensive players were back and they were giving us space,” Shinn said. “They started playing tighter on us and we couldn’t dribble the ball like we were earlier in the game. It was a close game.”
The Timberwolves held off Merced’s late charge and will play for their first section championship since 2011.
“It feels amazing,” Shinn said. “We put so much work in this season. We deserve this opportunity.”
After getting its first taste of winning in the playoffs, the Bears – who will return 14 players next year – are eager for another opportunity to make a deep postseason run.
“I’m very proud of the girls,” Murillo said. “Our first goal is always to win league. Once that didn’t happen our next goal is to get past the first round of the playoffs and we got to the semifinals. I’m very proud because we have a very young team.”