NEWPORT COAST — On Senior Day, the Sage Hill School girls' soccer team honored the seven seniors who have been the backbone of the program for the last couple of years.
As day turned into night, frustration set in.
The Lightning gave up a controversial goal in overtime and fell to visiting Crean Lutheran, 1-0, in their Academy League finale Thursday at Sage Hill. Crean Lutheran (6-2-2 in league) won the battle for second place. Sage Hill (12-5-3, 6-3-1) finishes third in league for the second straight year.
Sage still makes the CIF Southern Section Division VI playoffs; brackets will be released Monday. But the Lightning now face the prospect of a tough road match in the first round.
The members of that senior class — Rannah Dabiri, Alexa Thomas, Caroline Grant, Noosha Deravi, Sanna Taskinen, Paige Krueger and Maddie Culberson — still feel like they have a CIF run in them.
"This team's probably the strongest and closest team we've had in the time I've been at Sage," said Dabiri, a midfielder. "Honestly, I'd say the past five or six games, we've really come out and given it our all. Sometimes the score doesn't show it, but we all know it. I'm really proud of my team for what happened today, even though the scoreboard isn't on our side."
The Lightning had the ball in the Crean Lutheran end for nearly the whole second half. The inability to finish hurt Sage Hill five minutes into the first overtime period.
Crean Lutheran had a free kick from near midfield bounce into the box and a Crean player collided with Thomas, the Sage Hill goalie. Thomas fell to the ground, but play continued, and Saints freshman forward Maddie Beavers scored to shock the Lightning.
Many of the Lightning players remained shocked after the game, that no foul was called on the play.
"I didn't have the ball," Thomas said. "But, in my opinion, the girl played me and didn't play the ball. I mean, the refs definitely were not on our side today ... I didn't see what happened after I got leveled. Excuses aside, we played hard and gave it our all."
Crean Lutheran, ranked No. 8 in Division VI, nearly scored again in the second overtime period, but Gracie Dimond's header in the box went just wide right. The Saints didn't need the insurance goal, as Sage Hill could not find the equalizer.
Prior to Beavers' goal, Sage had more scoring chances. Sophia Witte executed a give-and-go with Dabiri in the 12th minute before delivering a perfect through ball to sophomore Meg Crade, whose shot hit off the bottom of the crossbar and went in. But offside was called on the play.
Behind Crade and Culberson, Sage kept up the pressure in the second half. Early in the half, freshman Paige Burke had her long shot bounce off the crossbar.
"You can't ask for much more than what [my players] gave," Sage Hill Coach Catie Chase said. "They fought until the very end. We're taking this as a learning experience. We still go to CIF, so we can still see [Crean] again and we can still see St. Margaret's again. Hopefully we'll learn from this game, take it into next week and see what we can do in CIF."
Sage stayed stout defensively much of the game behind the defense of Taskinen and freshman Kekai Whitford in the middle, as well as juniors Campbell Moore and Francesca D'Agostino. Whitford especially was aggressive at getting the ball out of the Lightning defensive end, as well as powerful with her free kicks.
Thomas made six saves for Sage Hill, which tried to stay positive after the tough loss.
"This team has a lot of heart," Thomas said. "That's definitely what you need to go far."