ATWATER — For most of the Central California Conference season, the Atwater High girls soccer team has been on the outside of the playoffs looking in.
Things started out well enough with a win and a draw to open league play, but a string of close losses and ties had the Falcons playing catch-up.
It's taken some near flawless soccer down the stretch, but Steve Menezes' squad finally caught up on Wednesday afternoon.
Jazmin Barragan provided the game's only goal in the 20th minute and Atwater knocked off first-place Golden Valley 1-0.
The Falcons' fifth win in their last six games, coupled with Pitman's 3-2 loss to Buhach Colony, vaults Atwater into the league's third and final playoff spot with two games to play.
"We really feel like we're coming together as a team," senior striker Alyssa Ruiz said. "All those ties early on really prevented us getting up in the top three spots.
"Now we're finding ways to win those games and we've gotten where we want to be.
"We're trying not to get overconfident, though, because one bad game and we could be right back out."
Still, with taking 16 of 18 possible points in the last six games, Atwater has thrown itself right back in the title hunt.
The Falcon defense has led the charge.
Atwater (12-5-7, 6-3-4 CCC) has allowed just three goals during its surge, and did as good a job as anyone of bottling up league-leading goal scorer Sara Callister on Wednesday.
Menezes put stopper Melissa Lopez in Callister's back pocket and had sweeper Yessenia Gonzalez over the top in case Callister got past Lopez.
Atwater executed the game plan, with the Cougars' speedy striker unable to get behind the defense for one of the few times all season.
With Callister's pace negated, GV (12-7-2, 8-5 CCC)produced just two shots in the opening half and five total in the game.
"It helps that a lot of our girls know and play with (Callister)," Menezes said. "They know exactly how dangerous she can be and we were able to keep two bodies between her and the goal all game.
"We know we're not the type of team that's going to score five goals in a game. We need to rely on our good defense and good goalkeeping to win games."
Barragan provided all the offense Atwater would need, taking a Joy Wilcox cross in the 17th minute and drilling a left-footed strike into the back of the net.
After spending just one day out of first place all season, a two-loss week has Lee Shaw's squad reeling heading into the final week of the season.
"Last round we lost two straight and were able to answer back with some wins. We need to do it again," Shaw said. "Atwater did a good job against us, but the first 15 minutes of the game, they could barely get the ball out of their end.
"We have to seize that opportunity and find a way to get a goal or two. People are waiting for one player to do something. We need everyone to step up and start making it happen."
BC 3, Pitman 2
ATWATER Sadie Montague netted a pair of goals to lead the Thunder past the Pride.