DENVER - The girls' soccer team at Fountain Valley absorbed two early blows from the defending champs and countered with two of their own.
The Danes wouldn't let their season go quietly into the Denver night. And perhaps, the defeat hurt all the worse because of it.
No. 3 Fountain Valley had its title hopes ended in the Class 2A semifinals by No. 2 Denver Christian for a second straight season, falling 3-2 on Wednesday night at All-City Stadium.
The Danes (13-4) allowed two quick goals to the Thunder - reminiscent of the start of their 6-1 loss to Denver Christian a year earlier - but answered with a strike from Eryn Mitchell midway through the first half followed by a tying shot from Ani Love in waning minutes.
Miranda Kortenhoeven, who had already surgically placed two chances that led to the first two goals for the Thunder (12-5), played the hero in the 77th. Her free kick from near midfield landed in the box and Grace Phillipps redirected the ball into the net with her head to send Denver Christian back into the finals.
"It was a fine margin tonight," Fountain Valley coach Kevin Ray said. "I think either team could have gone on to win the game. It just so happened Denver Christian found that winning touch."
More to the point: Kortenhoeven's golden touch.
The Thunder jumped to a quick 2-0 lead thanks to the fine-tuned senior. Hally Herder scored on a header off Kortenhoeven's beautifully placed corner 11 minutes in and she added another in the 16th when her free kick from around 30 yards soared over keeper Tilly Rahm's reach and snuggled into the top right corner of the net.
Marvelous, breathtaking, agonizing. This time, though, Fountain Valley wouldn't go down easy.
The Danes answered quickly on Mitchell's tap-in goal in the 17th minute. Showing patience, Fountain Valley's front line shared the ball through tight spaces around the perimeter box before Mitchell took Love's pass and fired low left for her 14th goal of the year.
"I was nervous I was going to kick it over," Mitchell said. "But Ani's pass was put in a perfect place."
The Danes nearly tied the game on multiple occasions late in the second half before pulling even. Love dropped a ball close on net that Mitchell couldn't quite get a foot on to finish. Then after a partial clear from Denver Christian, Love hit another from outside the box that hit the keeper and rolled just short of the goal line.
The captain finally tied the game on a 30-yard free kick that slipped through the outstretched hands of Denver Christian keeper Abby Clark.
The Thunder, who lost top scorer Kara Amidon to injury earlier in the half and hadn't had much offense in the final 20 minutes, still found an answer. They will face top-seeded Dawson School in a replay of the 2017 state finals Tuesday at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.
"We didn't want what happened to us last year happen," Love said. "That was the driving force all year for us. We just played together and played for each other."