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Upset bid falls short for Flintridge Prep girls’ soccer

Upset bid falls short for Flintridge Prep girls’ soccer
Flintridge Prep's Dima Bazzi heads the ball versus South Torrance during the CIF Southern California Regional Division III semifinals at South Torrance High on Thursday. (Photo by Mike Mullen)

TORRANCE — For 64 minutes, thoughts of an upset and of an even more improbable shutout danced in the minds of the Flintridge Prep girls' soccer team.

The fifth-seeded Rebels led top-seeded South Torrance by a goal and kept the Spartans, who had only been blanked once this season, without a score for more than half the match.

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Unfortunately for Flintridge Prep, a historic season concluded as the shutout and then the victory slipped away in a 3-1 defeat Thursday afternoon in the emotional semifinals of the CIF Southern California Regional Division III playoffs.

With the victory, CIF Southern Section Division III champion South Torrance (21-1-2) advanced to Saturday's championship game versus Claremont, which is a rematch of the Southern Section finals.

For the second time this postseason, South Torrance stopped Flintridge Prep. The Spartans defeated the Rebels, 5-2, in the Southern Section Division III semifinals in La Cañada Flintridge on Feb. 28.

Flintridge Prep finished its season with a 23-5-3 record, a Prep League championship, advancement to the Southern Section semifinals for the first time in 15 seasons and a program first-ever state playoff victory (2-1 over Mission Oak) on Tuesday in Tulare.

"The last time we played South Torrance, they were just way too strong for us," Flintridge Prep Coach Esteban Chavez said. "To come into their place from two days ago – where we had to travel so far – and we were missing one of our starting center backs, this effort was great. It was all you can ask for."

The Rebels led, 1-0, when South turned to its trio of stars: Claire Grouwinkle, Mina Ghazizadeh and Holly Kaemerle.

Grouwinkle scored two goals, both assisted by Ghazizadeh, while the bruising Kaemerle scored the final tally.

South Torrance, which scored four goals in the first half versus Flintridge Prep in the teams' first meeting, finally broke through in the 65th minute.

The Spartans played a corner kick short, which led to a pass from Ghazizadeh inside the 18-yard box to Grouwinkle, who fired a shot just inside the left post that equalized the match at 1.

Eight minutes later, the Rebels trailed for the first time when Ghazizadeh floated a 20-yard pass to a streaking Grouwinkle, who headed a shot off the inner left post and in to put the visitors ahead, 2-1.

Flintridge Prep's best chance to tie came two minutes into stoppage time on a free kick from Mika Celeste that dangerously bounced inside the penalty area before the official called a handball against the Rebels.

Flintridge Prep finished with five shots, but only one came in the second half.

On the flip side, South Torrance tallied 22 shots, with 10 taking place in the second half.

The final of those attempts was a 15-yard rocket for a goal from Kaemerle seven minutes into stoppage time that cemented the score at 3-1.

"We knew that Flintridge Prep was a strong team and they really had nothing to lose," said South Torrance Coach Elizabeth Kitsois, whose team was dealing with the grief of losing schoolmate Jesse Esphorst Jr., who was killed in a hit-and-run on Tuesday. "We were dealing with a lot coming into this game and that had an effect on our girls."

Flintridge Prep stuck first as a cross from sophomore halfback Celeste to Rebels freshman defender Natalie Brown was intercepted by a South Torrance defender.

The fullback, though, whiffed on trying to clear the ball and tapped it to Brown, who ran inside the 18 and rifled a 10-yard shot for a goal in the sixth minute.

"I trusted that Mika was going to get me the ball and she found me," Brown said. "I was hoping that would be enough, but when you face a skilled team like South Torrance, it's hard, really hard."

Brown's goal stood for almost 60 minutes thanks in part to the heroic effort of Flintridge Prep junior goalie Lindsey Uteda, who finished with 13 saves.

Uteda dove to corral a corner kick and fell flat on her back in the 53rd minute, which led to her removal and replacement by sophomore Libby Penn.

In the 60th minute, however, Uteda re-entered.

"There was no way I was staying out the rest of the game, no way," Uteda said. "I think Chavez made a good adjustment from the first time we played them and it worked for 65 minutes."

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