Girls soccer’s late push takes revenge on Redwood for MCAL title

Branson girls varsity soccer celebrates after Riley Pearson (6) netted the winning goal in overtime at San Rafael High School on Feb. 11, 2023. Her goal clinched the title at the MCAL final against rival Redwood. (Courtesy Robert Duran)

By Shun Graves

SAN RAFAEL — Four minutes into extra time on Saturday, Whitney Collet dangerously crossed the ball into the 18-yard box.

“I knew I had to get the ball into the box, and I took that touch,” she said.

The ball found Redwood goalkeeper Paige Barta, but it slipped. Branson forward Riley Pearson charged toward the loose ball and launched it toward the net, notching the winning goal for the 2-1 MCAL title game. Branson defeated Redwood for the first time in six years.

“I thought the keeper had grabbed it,” Pearson said. “It just bounced in my way, and I was headed toward goal anyway, so I just touched it in.”

Overtime began much like the second half had ended. But when Collet pounced on the ball past the half-way line, Branson created the potential for a storybook finish and delivered.

“I saw Whitney get the ball, and I was like, ‘Whitney, shoot it! Get a cross off!’” said Birdie Dillon, who usually plays right back but took the front line for overtime. “She crossed it in, and the goalie had a little slip. Riley touched the ball, and then we all ran to Riley.”

The team rallied around Pearson to mark its revenge win against Redwood. Branson had just defeated its rival, which defeated Branson 2-1 on Feb. 2 to conclude the regular season.

Pearson’s late goal capped a game that offered few scoring chances for the Bulls during regulation. Redwood failed to convert its first-half corner kicks, and the team’s best chance from forward Maya Greenholz fell right into Branson goalkeeper Patricia DePalma’s hands at 15 minutes.

The second half began with new energy. In the 46th minute, Branson striker Ally Hsieh purloined the ball and dribbled it point-blank toward the goal. She struck the right corner to tally the Bulls’ sole regulation goal.

“I know I can rely on her, and she’s such a solid, amazing player,” center back Carly Lowe said. “In that moment, I just stopped thinking.”

It just bounced in my way, and I was headed toward goal anyway, so I just touched it in.”

— Riley Pearson

Hsieh’s drive recalled the final moments of the MCAL semifinal against Tamalpais on Feb. 9. She captured the ball and fought off multiple defenders to make a shot. Though the ball bounced off the crossbar, Pearson located it to make the winning shot.

This time, Hsieh’s shot bounced right into the net.

“She’s been ever so close, and tonight, it all came together,” Branson coach Tyler Gottschalk said. “What a fitting goal for a final. The quality of that was different level, and I’m so happy for her to have a moment like that in front of a crowd like this.”

Redwood clapped back in the 52nd minute. Colette Boyden found the corner of the net for the equalizer, and with few other scoring chances, the stalemate held for the rest of the second half.

Overtime brought new urgency to the pitch. Pearson’s title-winning goal almost seemed unexpected, but the setup, from Collet driving the ball to Pearson making the shot, arose from daily practice.

“She knew what she was doing,” Collet said.

And just like the MCAL semifinal game, Pearson made the shot when Branson most needed it.

“The kid just does it again,” Gottschalk said. “She has such a great feel of where and when to arrive in the box and so many times has stepped up to make the big play.”

The team now advances to the North Coast Section playoffs, but the title win on Saturday set a milestone that both avenged Redwood and captured the county’s top honor.

“Losing to Redwood last year and beating them now, it’s just something special,” center back Caitlin Capitolo said. “That’s all we want.”