STOCKTON — From the outset Saturday, it appeared the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 5 championship game was Central Catholic's to win.
An early goal four minutes into the game gave the Raiders a 1-0 lead and the momentum.
But Liberty Ranch of Galt stayed patient and forced its long-ball style of play on Central Catholic, eventually tying it before halftime, then taking the lead for good with 17 minutes to play in a 3-1 victory at Lincoln High.
"We let one get away today," said Central Catholic head coach Dominic Figueroa. "We usually have a way we play, and it's usually us keeping possession of the ball, and we call it a 'building,' and we start to build."
That was exactly what the Raiders (14-3-4) did in the opening five minutes. After earning a corner kick, Bianca Jaureguy served the ball into the far side of the goalie box, where Clarissa Sandoval headed it inside the back post for a 1-0 lead.
"What hurts is we had two or three great opportunities right after (the goal) and couldn't put them through," Figueroa said. "We really could have closed the game right there."
Liberty Ranch took advantage of Central Catholic's missed opportunities early on by jumping on one of their own.
The Hawks sent a free kick into traffic just in front of the goal, where Raiders goalie Caitlyn Duval got a hand on it, but the ball was knocked loose from her grip and the Hawks knocked in the tying goal to make it 1-1.
Liberty Ranch took a 2-1 advantage with under 20 minutes to play on a long shot from 30 yards out. Duval tipped the ball away, banging it off the post, but a Liberty Ranch player was there to corral the rebound and put it in for the lead. The Hawks would tack on an insurance goal with two minutes to play.
With only four seniors and three starting upperclassmen, the team looks towards 2014 with even bigger aspirations after making it to a section championship game this season.
"We really had a great season," said Figueroa. "I'm extremely proud of our girls."
BRADSHAW CHRISTIAN 3, RIPON CHRISTIAN 0, at Stockton Ripon Christian yielded a goal late in the first half and an additional two early in the second half en route to a 3-0 loss to Bradshaw Christian of Sacramento (17-5-4) in the Section D-7 title game at Lincoln High.
The Knights (18-7-2) got solid efforts from midfielders Vanessa Vallo and Kaylie Colyn to end their best-ever season. Ripon Christian annexed its first Southern League title, won its first playoff game and set a school record for most wins.