Fallbrook is in to their third consecutive Girls High School Championship final, and did so with two wins today against 2010-11 finalist Sacramento Amazons (34-0 in the quarterfinals) and Catholic Memorial (28-15 in the semis).
The day started off with a convincing win over California rivals Sacramento (read more) and built a nice base for their afternoon win against the Wisconsin side. Sometimes a run-away win came be a detriment to a team in the opening round, especially where defense is concerned, but this wasn’t the case today.
“We’re a young team, so we needed this game to get our confidence up,” Fallbrook coach Craig Pinnell said. “In years past, we need games to push us a little bit, so they could understand where it was going. In this case, it was a good thing. We put on our whole bench in the end, so everyone got a bit of time on the field.”
Fallbrook coaches Craig and Marin Pinnell watched the first half of Catholic Memorial’s eventual 10-0 win over West Carroll (read more) and anticipated a heated semifinal.
“They have a lot of speed, so it should be an interesting game,” Craig said. “They played Divine Savior pretty close [12-7 at Midwest Championships], so I can understand why they’re both speed teams. We play a similar style so it should be close.”
The Pinnells were right on the mark, and the teams’ semifinal began with a Catholic Memorial kickoff deep into the corner. Fallbrook was caught off guard, and Catholic wing Myra Dillett scored off a scrum in the second minute. Katie Dries hit the conversion for the 7-0 lead.
Fallbrook answered right back and flyhalf Richelle Stephens pulled her side within two (7-5). Sticking to what worked, Catholic sent the subsequent kickoff into the same deep corner, and Fallbrook once again didn’t react well. This time it was fullback Sarah Dillett who made good on the favorable territory to extend Catholic’s lead to 12-5.
“The second match of the day is tough,” Marin said. “You have to get pumped up, even though you’re exhausted from the first match. We were asleep [on that second kickoff].”
The Pinnells typically let the players sort out the on-field tactics, but needed to step in at this point. The coaches refocused their players and empowered them to engineer a turn-around.
“We told them to not panic,” Craig said. “Fix your mistakes, do the simple things. After that, they got things going immediately.”
Fallbrook marched back into Catholic’s end, and standout outside center Casey Karl, who was electric against Sacramento, added to her two tries from the quarterfinal with a third score in the 16th minute (12-10).
Dries added a penalty in the 20th minute (15-10) before Fallbrook took their first lead of the game, one they would never relinquish. Hooker Johni Durban scored Fallbrook’s third try, and substitute wing Alex Beckett handled the extras for the 17-15 lead into the break.
“At halftime, the girls realized what the other team was doing, adjusted and kicked it into gear,” Marin said. “Catholic Memorial was playing more in the backs, so we shut them down there and played a little more in the forwards – opposite of the first game. Once we adapted, we got the upperhand.”
Fallbrook stayed in Catholic’s end more in the second half, and their dedication to a forwards’ game saw No. 8 Emma Workman score to push the lead out to 22-15. Beckett later added two penalties for the 28-15 win.
“Since they’re so young, it’s nice to see them absorb, overcome and create pressure,” Marin said. “The girls made the decision to change up their game. We promote reading what’s happening on the field and figuring out what style of game you’ve got to put out there.”
Only flanker Megan Pinson (amazing on the day), inside center Fabiola Gutierrez and wing Jessica Garcia have started in a national championship final, while others subbed in last year. When Fallbrook says they’re young – they really are. Fullback Michel Navarro is an eighth grader and Workman is only 14 years old.
“Michel has played for us for three years on and off,” Craig said. “She has confidence and deceptive speed. She’s quiet and just does her thing.”
Fallbrook will take on Lakewood in tomorrow’s final. The Ohio team look good in their 34-26 quarterfinal win over Kent (read more) and 19-0 semifinal victory over Divine Savior (match report to come).