SOUTH PASADENA — While one week in the regular season remains, there’s no downplaying the significance of Friday night’s Prep League showdown between visiting defending league champion Flintridge Prep and host Pasadena Poly.
Maybe that’s why a half hour after the Panthers picked up a crucial 1-0 victory, fans were still on the field at South Pasadena High celebrating a hard-fought affair.
“I have so much respect for Prep because, like I told the girls, they’re so physical and play so hard. Give them a lot of credit,” Poly Coach Pat Gray said. “If you really think about, we were really only able to start to be able to play our game once we scored. Until then, it was just a fight.”
With the win, CIF Southern Section Division III sixth-ranked Poly (14-1-1 overall, 6-0-1 in league) is the league leader heading down the home stretch in pursuit of the program’s first league championship since 2003.
Third-ranked Flintridge Prep (11-2-3, 3-2-1) has no time for a slump as it turns around and hosts Mayfield (8-4-2, 5-2-1) at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.
The match’s lone goal came in the 64th minute and initially appeared innocuous when Panthers goalie Natalie Treister (five saves) punted a ball to midfield, which was handled by Poly forward Noel Askins.
The Panthers’ speedster raced 20 yards down the home sideline when she drew two defenders and laced a through ball to racing teammate Katie Wardlaw.
Askins’ pass was anticipated by Rebels goalie Casey Cousineau, who dived for the pass.
Before the Dartmouth-bound Cousineau could reach the ball, Wardlaw fired a shot under her dive that found the back of the net and put the Panthers ahead, 1-0.
“I saw the run was available and I talked to my teammates, who played it right through. I knew we had a lot of chances and we weren’t finishing them and we needed to finish,” Wardlaw said. “I just kicked it in.”
The goal marred what was an otherwise stellar effort from Cousineau, who brilliantly punched away a one-on-one shot from Askins in the 65th minute. Fifteen minutes earlier, Cousineau also broke up a scoring opportunity between Panthers forward Sarah Mendenhall and Askins.
As for the Rebels’ offense, even though Flintridge Prep outshot Poly, 10-7, the visitors were unable to net the equalizer.
Rebels senior forward Kaelin King had a 15-yard attempt denied by Treister in the 68th minute.
King was also involved in a big no-call when she received a pass from Katherine Pinney and went down inside the box while defended by Poly’s Sloan Askins in the 74th minute. Despite pleas from the Rebels’ bench, there was no call.
“Personally, I mean yes, [there should have been a penalty kick], but it’s what the ref is going to do,” King said. “They got me after I didn’t have the ball anymore and in my opinion I think it should be a PK, but I’m a little bit biased.”
Both teams created a solid couple of looks in a match that was scoreless at the half.
Perhaps the best opportunity for the Panthers came in the 27th minute when University of Princeton-bound Mendenhall rifled a 10-yard shot set up off an inside pass from Wardlaw that was denied on a great diving save from Cousineau, who had five saves.
Flintridge Prep came close to scoring on a 16-yard shot from King that was stopped by Treister in the 37th minute.
“I’m super proud of the girls. I thought it was a great game on both ends,” Rebels Coach Esteban Chavez said. “I think we displayed great soccer all the way around. We did create opportunities. Poly did a good job. Our goal now is to try to go far in the playoffs, as far as we can.”