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Van Den Heever saves Cali

Daily Pilot

COSTA MESA — Goalkeeper Maya Van Den Heever first used her hands to stop the opposing keeper. She then beat the keeper with her right foot.

Soccer games rarely end in this fashion, keeper versus keeper. Thank penalty kicks for the unusual sequence at the end of the Daily Pilot Cup’s fifth- and sixth-grade girls’ silver division final Sunday.

California Elementary School can’t thank Van Den Heever enough for her game-saving and game-winning kick efforts against Victoria. California rallied twice from two-goal deficits, once in regulation and once in penalties.

The last time allowed California to pull out a dramatic victory after winning the penalties, 3-2, at the Costa Mesa Farm Complex.

The two Costa Mesa schools were deadlocked at 2-2 after 60 minutes of play in regulation. After nine shots during penalties, California and Victoria were even at 2-2.

It was Van Den Heever’s turn to kick the ball after stopping it a couple of minutes ago. Once again, she came through in a pressure situation.

Van Den Heever blasted a shot past the keeper’s left side, sending California into a dog pile.

“This is like the longest [game] I have ever played,” Van Den Heever said.

“It was really hard.”

The title game was taxing on California. The team didn’t have a bench.

If a player was fatigued or injured, there was no one to replace her. Van Den Heever and her teammates never complained.

For a player whose only soccer experience is at the Pilot Cup, Van Den Heever looks like a seasoned club player.

Coach Itzel Acuna and her husband/assistant, Ernie, just marveled at Van Den Heever’s composure. Nothing fazed her.

Even though Emily Rodriguez helped Victoria jump out to a 2-0 lead in the first half, California fought back. Van Den Heever kept the team in the game by leaping to make saves and diving to bat away shots.

California repaid her for the effort.

Delani Guyot scored California’s first goal in the 38th minute. Two minutes later, it was Lanai Acuna, the daughter of Itzel and Ernie, tying the match at 2-2.

Sheer hustle was why Acuna scored. She never quit on the ball after the keeper couldn’t handle the bouncing ball in the box. Acuna gained control and kicked it past the keeper.

Victoria Principal Linda Tenno couldn’t believe the score. She left the game after her school was up at halftime.

When Tenno returned, the lead vanished.

“I guess I’m not going to the bathroom again,” Tenno said.

Tenno stayed put and Victoria and California stayed even for the final 20 minutes.

Brandy White and Aileen Gutierrez had a couple of chances late in the second half to give Victoria the go-ahead goal. They barely missed finding the back of the net.

During penalties, Gutierrez and Rodriguez converted Victoria’s first two attempts. California misfired on its two shots.

Acuna delivered California’s first goal to cut the deficit to 2-1. Victoria missed its next attempt, allowing California’s Emily Martinez to even the penalties at 2-2.

Victoria continued to miss, as did California, setting up the stage for Van Den Heever to face Victoria’s keeper.

The shot went straight toward Van Den Heever and she saved it. The two keepers switched positions.

Their teams did as well after Van Den Heever’s game-winning kick.

“I am so proud of them,” said Itzel, who has been working with the players for the last three years for this opportunity. “Whether they have skills or not, every kid is welcome to the team. We just leave everything on the field.”