UPLAND -- In a closely contested soccer match, a little luck goes a long way. Unfortunately for Murrieta Valley's girls Tuesday night, their luck ran out at the wrong time.
Scoring twice off ricochet goals, host Upland rallied to defeat the Nighthawks, 2-1, in overtime and eliminate them with a CIF Southern Section Division II second-round victory on a blustery and chilly evening near the base of Mt. Baldy.
Upland senior Karly McCroskey buried the game-winner in the fourth minute of overtime to advance the Highlanders (12-4-2) to the quarterfinals. The loss was especially painful for the Nighthawks (15-7-6), as they were seven minutes from victory when Upland equalized in the 73rd minute before winning 11 minutes of playing time later.
"It's heart-breaking," said Murrieta Valley junior keeper Carson Dukes. "We had probably one of the most amazing games of my high school career (on Thursday), so it's really sad to be done."
Dukes, the normally sturdy stopper, twice stopped penalty shots Thursday to allow the Nighthawks to defeat Agoura on penalty kicks in the first round. For most of Tuesday, she was brilliant, notching eight saves against Upland, the No. 2 seed from the Baseline League that the Nighthawks tied, 2-2, in an Aliso Cup tournament match back in December.
Murrieta Valley nursed a 1-0 lead late despite increasing pressure from the Highlanders. Then, Upland's Cynthia Slover tied the match in the 73rd minute when she buried a ball in which the original shot went off Dukes' hands and the Nighthawks' defense failed to clear.
In another bit of irony, that score came after Murrieta Valley's back line had been so strong in marking and stopping Upland's scorers -- especially McCroskey and Tanya Samarzich. The Highlanders' goal, though, did punctuate a second half in which they made a concerted effort to push upfield.
"Sometimes, we start a little tight," said Upland coach Bo Whieldon, whose team outshot the Nighthawks, 5-1, in the second half. "For this team, it's almost been a blessing to get scored on early. It ups our energy level."
Said Murrieta Valley coach Harry Hutcheson: "They were starting to push wave after wave. You can only take that for so long."
In overtime, Vanessa Vaquerano broke away down the right side of the pitch and crossed a high-arching, long-range shot that caused Dukes to leave her feet. She punched the ball upward with a fist, catching the bar and bouncing out to McCroskey, who was in perfect position to boot the winner.
"I think I did what I could there," Dukes said. "I didn't want to come out on that."
Brittney Irland gave the Nighthawks a 1-0 lead in the 23rd minute on a similar goal when she booted in a loose ball in front of goal. Upland keeper Elizabeth Salas had lost it seconds earlier when Ninfa Ramirez shot from about 20 yards out.
All three of the match's scores were essentially rebound goals.
'You don't see that often where all three goals were touched by the keeper first," Whieldon said.
Afterward, Murrieta Valley players consoled each other, trying to focus on a season in which they won a share of a league title despite losing standouts Kelsey Birtcher and Kaylee Mason for much of the year. They also went deeper into the playoffs than any other Southwestern League team.
"I'm just so glad I had this season with these girls," Dukes said.