All did not fall silent on the pitch when Inglewood St. Mary’s Academy’s Giselle Cruz scored a golden goal to lead her team to a 2-1 win over Pacifica Christian Orange County in the wild-card round of the CIF Southern Section Division 6 girls’ soccer playoffs on Tuesday at Vanguard University.
Next to none of the noise came from the Tritons, however, who faced their second straight postseason exit in a match that had gone beyond regulation.
The season prior, Pacifica Christian lost to The Archer School for Girls of Los Angeles on penalty kicks in the first round.
Tritons coach Brandon Gonzalez appeared melancholy over his team’s fate. He had not been prepared to say farewell to this team, especially after it dominated the first half and took a 1-0 lead into the break.
“I think the first half, I thought we were going to get two or three [goals],” Gonzalez said. “We kind of had the run of play. You know, it’s the game you play.
“We didn’t have the best second half. We’re a young team. We only lose two seniors. I think these girls need to know that the whole game, you have to be ready to play.”
Gonzalez added that the Tritons had chances that went unfinished. Buze Harrison had a point-blank shot that Erika Carcamo (four saves) was able to square herself up to.
Maggie O’Callaghan showed a willingness to crash the net, but the ball eluded her when she was on the doorstep.
Other chances went untaken, as hesitation led to passing the ball along in hopes of finding a better shot.
“We didn’t challenge that goalie enough,” Gonzalez said. “We wanted to. It was a tough loss.”
Pacifica Christian (11-6-1) scored in the ninth minute, when a seeing-eye shot by senior midfielder Brooklyn Motske appeared to go right through Carcamo from distance.
At the time, it was a tough goal for St. Mary’s (10-10) to have conceded, but the Belles put the pressure on in the second half and eventually broke through for the tying marker.
In the 70th minute, Angelica Taylor found Cruz, who picked the top left corner of the net to tie the score at 1-1.
“I feel like we were all affected by it, but at the same time, we’re used to taking bad things and turning them into good things,” Cruz said of rebounding from the opening goal. “As a whole team, we talked and we told each other that although this might be a slight downfall, that there is always a way to come back from it.
“We all just had a mentality to come back and not let one goal define us because the 1-0 score is easy to come back from. If they had the ability to [score], we did, too.”
Five minutes into overtime, Cruz dribbled around a Pacifica Christian defender and found herself alone with Tritons goalkeeper Jo Snider (seven saves). She took a hard shot that glanced off Snider’s gloved hand and into the goal.
Cruz had been a dangerous player the entire second half. In the 49th minute, St. Mary’s had back-to-back corner kicks sent in by Ashley Galvan. The second fell into a crowded box, and Cruz hit the crossbar on a close-range attempt.
The Belles were left hoping that they would get another scoring chance, which eventually came to fruition, helping them advance to the first round to play at Moreno Valley Rancho Verde (10-7-4) on Thursday.
“I knew, something told me that if we kept on pushing that we were going to get that goal in,” Belles coach Robert Taylor said. “When those two hit the crossbar, I was just like, ‘Oh man, I hope that wasn’t our chance.’
“I just knew that if we kept on pushing that we would get one in.”
Pacifica Christian has managed to qualify for the playoffs in each of its first four seasons as a varsity program. Gonzalez said that the Tritons do not have to get over a hump to find further playoff success.
“The hump is not so much a hump as it is just a steppingstone,” Gonzalez said. “Some schools take years to accomplish what we have in four short years.
“We are a growing program, with huge success early on, and we will only continue to make those steps in the right direction as we mature as a school and program. Overall, we are one of the best, consistent small school programs in the area.”
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