LA CANADA — Brimming with emotion and anticipation heading into its pivotal Mission League match Friday night, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy’s soccer team got the swift start it needed.
But it was the resiliency displayed by the Tologs that carried them to their biggest victory of the season.
Led by a goal and an assist each from Savannah Viola and Hailey James and a game-winning score from Sarah Teegarden, the Tologs upended archrival Harvard-Westlake, 3-2, at St. Francis High to stay in the hunt for a league crown.
“It was the biggest win ... It’s a great feeling,” said Viola, who scored in the fourth minute and assisted James on a go-ahead goal later in a wild first half. “The whole game was an emotional roller coaster.
“And you know what, we pulled through.”
Already amped at the notion of avenging a 3-0 loss to the Wolverines (15-2-3, 7-1-1) earlier in the season, the Tologs (14-1-3, 6-1-1) were further motivated by their chase for a league title, the atmosphere of senior night and the absence of longtime coach Frank Pace, who’s ill and has missed both of the team’s games this week.
“The girls were pumped,” Tologs Coach Cesar Hidalgo said. “They knew this was one of the games they had to win and they came out and did it.
“I give them all the credit.”
Sacred Heart never trailed, taking leads of 1-0 and 2-1, before Harvard-Westlake tied the match on two occasions before Teegarden produced the game-winner to avenge the Tologs’ lopsided loss on Jan. 14.
“It was personal again. It was a personal game,” Viola said. “The minute they scored, we knew we had to come back with something big.”
Perhaps overlooked by the offensive fireworks was a staunch defensive effort by the Tologs, keyed by Kayla Mills, Lauren Savo, Miranda Saldivar and Claire Kostelnik.
Both of Harvard-Westlake’s goals came on set pieces — a free kick and corner kick — by Quinn Frankel. But for the most part, the Tologs prevented the Wolverines from moving into their attacking third, which was exploited by Harvard-Westlake in its previous 3-0 win.
“We knew this team is a good aggressive team and if we give them any space they’ll take advantage of it,” Hidalgo said. “We came back and corrected what we did wrong [in the first game].”
The Tologs won the shot battle, 19-7, but most impressively, Sacred Heart fired off the first 10 shots of the second half, with Harvard-Westlake held to just one — which came in harmless fashion in the 70th minute and bounced easily to Tologs goalie Dani Garcia for her fourth and final save of the match.
“We made sure they didn’t get into our attacking third because we learned from our mistakes,” Viola said.
Just as crucial on both sides of the ball was the Tologs controlling possession and the run of play.
“We knew last time we let them play their game,” Teegarden said. “We had to play possession and play our game.”
And the Tologs wasted no time doing just that.
James dribbled down the right side of the field before crossing left to a centered Viola, who one-timed a shot off her foot in mid-air for a 1-0 lead in the fourth minute.
Viola looked to add to the lead when her shot from the left wing to the far post tipped off Wolverines goalie Jackie Ridgley’s fingers before tickling the goalline. Ridgley turned back and grabbed the ball, with the Sacred Heart faithful arguing it was a goal and the refs disagreeing. Another excellent chance came in the 10th minute when Hannah Armendariz crossed to James, whose shot was again saved by Ridgley.
Harvard-Westlake’s reply came in the 25th minute when Frankel scored on a free kick to tie the match at 1.
“A few people put their heads down,” Teegarden said. “We just needed to stay with it. ... We did a good job of that.”
Sacred Heart grabbed the lead back in the 35th minute on a sensational pass by Viola and a phenomenally poised effort by James.
Viola weaved her way up the heart of the field before tapping a pass up to a streaking James, who had a step on her mark with Ridgley coming out to force the play. James poked the ball forward and Ridgley got a hand on it, but the ball continued to roll forward. James hurdled Ridgley and calmly dribbled in close to tap in a score.
This time, though, the Wolverines’ retort came quickly.
Thirty seconds later, Garcia had to leap to punch away a freekick over the crossbar, but in the 37th minute was helpless to defend a perfect corner from Frankel that bent inside the far post to tie the match. A minute later, another Wolverines shot banged off the crossbar.
But the Tologs’ resolve shined through in the second half.
“As a coach, it’s a great [thing to see],” Hidalgo said. “They know what the goal is and what type of soccer they have to play to be successful.”
Just six minutes into the second half, Krista Meaglia brought the ball up the center of the field before playing it back to Teegarden, who quickly set and fired from roughly 30 yards out for the score on a ball that looked to be going left, but bent right past a twisted Ridgley.
“I think it was good communication,” said Teegarden of the goal and the play between her and Meaglia. “I just saw a small gap and took a shot.”
Outstanding opportunities by Viola and Lauren Thompson followed later in the half, but thanks to the defense, Teegarden’s goal stood as the game-winner.
It was Teegarden’s goal that also matched a season-high for goals allowed in a match by Harvard-Westlake, which had only relinquished one goal in league prior to Friday.
Going forward and looking to at least share the league crown with the Wolverines, Sacred Heart has arduous road matches remaining against Notre Dame and Chaminade, while Harvard-Westlake has only Louisville left to play.
“We’re gonna be confident, but not cocky,” Viola said. “[We have to] remember the feeling, but forget about the game, just go out and play.”