Pacifica Christian Orange County High opened its second CIF Southern Section girls' postseason soccer campaign by scoring a quick goal and easing into a comfortable dominance that produced plenty of chances but nothing more.
If that seemed to be enough, and it did for nearly all of Tuesday afternoon's Division 6 wild-card clash against Alhambra Mark Keppel at Vanguard University, it nearly cost the host Tritons at the end.
Mark Keppel put away an equalizer with barely 10 minutes to go, with just its second shot of the day, and that, junior midfielder Sadie Hill suggested, might have been the best thing that could have happened.
Five minutes later, Hill took a ball over the top from Alyssa Smith, took a touch, and then lobbed it over the goalkeeper and into the left corner of the net, lifting Pacifica Christian to a 2-1 triumph.
The Tritons (16-4-0) have a first-round showdown Thursday at No. 2-seeded Garden Grove (21-0-1).
Hill was off the field, getting instruction from coach Brandon Gonzalez, when Mark Keppel's Nicole Hernandez found an open Jessica Basallo in the box for an easy put-away in the 72nd minute.
"I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I need to go back in,' " Hill said. "It definitely kicked in a new adrenaline that I needed, and it motivated me and I think our team to be like, 'Oh my gosh, to keep going, that this is not over.' And I actually think that was good for us, getting tied up."
It certainly made a one-sided game far more interesting. The Tritons outshot Mark Keppel 17-3, and took 11 corner kicks. But aside from Brooklyn Motske's fifth-minute goal — on a cross from the right flank that bent toward the net and went in off goalkeeper Beatriz Rodriguez's hands — there wasn't a whole lot to show for it.
"I'd say we got a little complacent there at the end," Gonzalez said, "But we've always found ways to win at the end of the day. We were a little nervous [after Mark Keppel equalized], but the girls found a way to win. They've been doing that all year."
Smith, a junior who plays club soccer for Slammers FC, was the catalyst for everything Pacifica Christian accomplished.
The deep-lying playmaker had an unerring sense of who was where and what was what, and she used that information to make the right decision. Smith won balls, connected teammates with simple passes, and repeatedly found space for wingers Hill and Motske, leading to the Tritons' best chances. Both goals came from her service.
"Alyssa's our whole midfield," Hill said. "The balls she plays set up everything we do. It's so essential having her in there playing the through ball, since that is our style: balls wide, balls in the box. That starts with her, and the balls she plays has the best speed, the best touch on them. They're so fun to receive."
Pacifica Christian might have added to Motske's opener. But Rodriguez made a point-blank stop on Buze Harrison in the 27th minute, Abbi Sanders misplayed a feed from Motske in the 34th, and second-half Mark Keppel goalkeeper Casandra Rivera made a diving parry on Hill in the 43rd and another save on Corinne Carlson in the 69th.
Mark Keppel (5-17-1) was dangerous when it could get the ball to forward Grace Gomez, who beat three defenders on a 40-yard run to the Tritons' box but fired just past the right post in the 21st minute. She had another chance after beating three defenders six minutes into the second half, but Johanna Diaz stepped into her path, cutting her off from the ball.
Pacifica Christian went 17-3-0 in its inaugural varsity campaign last season and made it to the second round of the Division 7 playoffs, falling to San Gabriel Mission, which went on to win the title. This season has mostly been about building on that foundation.
"I think the tone we've set and the expectations we've set [will carry this program going forward]," said Smith, who transferred last year from Huntington Beach. "We're setting a tone and creating traditions and building those friendships and sisterhoods, and it's an exciting thing."
"We have girls who have bought into what we're trying to do," he said. "We told them it's not every day 14- and 15-year-olds get to build something from scratch, and that's the opportunity we have. How do we set those traditions for the girls to follow? That's kind of been our emphasis.
"We're in it for each other. We do it for each other. And that's the motto. It's team first, it's culture, it's camaraderie, it's building this family."