HEMET — When the halftime whistle sounded the La Can¿ada High girls' soccer team walked off the field feeling like it had outplayed top-seeded Hemet on the road despite a one-goal deficit.
All those good feelings washed away in the second half, as the Bulldogs applied a world of pressure on the Spartans defense that resulted in three goals and a 4-0 victory Friday in the CIF Southern Section Division VI quarterfinals.
"We definitely put some effort into the game and the girls were psyched," said La Can¿ada assistant Anya Rosen of her team's first-half performance. "It's a tough loss, but Hemet's a really good team and we tried our best. The girls have a lot of heart."
La Can¿ada (13-3-4) play without its Coach Louie Bilowitz, who was dealing with flu-like symptoms, for the second game in a row, something Rosen believed had an impact on the game.
"It's hard when something that is kind of like a steadfast rock changes," Rosen said. "It's hard to adapt to that. The girls did the best they could and they really wanted to win for him, but that didn't happen."
Hemet Coach Craig Dwinnell said his team pulled away in the second half because it was more decisive on the ball.
"They weren't really sure what they wanted to do with the ball [in the first half]," Dwinnell said. "I think we were more precise and determined [in the second]. They played a flat-back four, which we don't see that often, but I think we were able to figure it out finally."
Hemet (22-2-2) got on the board in the 10th minute when Nola Prickett scored off a corner kick. The corner found its way in the middle of La Can¿ada's box to Prickett, who attempted a side kick but her shot went straight out in front of her in the box.
The Spartans thought there was a handball on Prickett and paused for a call from the official, as Prickett ran up and struck the ball into the bottom right corner of the net for a 1-0 lead.
"It was an unlucky goal, we thought it was a handball," said La Can¿ada senior midfielder Talia Saleh.
La Can¿ada bounced back and got two good looks at goal before halftime.
The first came in the 20th minute on hard shot off a 30-yard free kick from Kara Lankey that was right to Bulldogs keeper Alexx Pachon.
The Spartans nearly tied the game in the 33rd minute on a corner of their own. Natalie Ragusa lofted the corner into Hemet's box to an unmarked Saleh, who headed the ball just a few feet in front of the goal, but Pachon just knocked it away.
"I thought we did awesome," Saleh said. "We stepped it up and they're a pretty good team. We moved the ball well and I thought we dominated the first half."
Hemet took a commanding two-goal lead in the 57th minute after La Can¿ada goalie Haley Austin, who finished with six saves, spoiled two Bulldogs breakaways in the first 17 minutes of the second half.
Austin had little chance at a save on a third breakaway. It started when a slow-rolling ball made its way to a La Can¿ada defender. Hemet's Rosie Robinson pressured the ball as the defender got out of the way as it rolled past the Spartans back line and Robinson converted on the breakaway.
"They came out a little stronger in the second half and that little push made a big difference because the whole team energy went down after that second goal," Saleh said.
Cassie Quiring nearly got the Spartans on the board in the 59th minute off a cross from Katrina Davis that Pachon thought about running out to grab but decided against it. The ball rolled to Quiring, who fired a shot, with Pachon out of position but still managing to grab, as it rolled behind her.
Robinson created the Bulldogs' next goal when she sent a pass through La Can¿ada's backline to Krista Haddock, who buried a shot for a 3-0 lead in the 62nd minute.
Haddock added the final goal off a deep throw in the 72nd minute, as she lofted a shot across the goal into the left side of the net.
Despite the disappointing end, the Spartans know the deep run in the postseason means a lot to their team, especially the 16 underclassmen.
"It's been awesome for all of us," Saleh said, "but for them it's an incentive to know they can get here again. When they're all seniors they're going to be amazing."