SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — The goalie save by Sage Hill junior Kekai Whitford early in the second half Thursday night, one of her 12 in the game, was unbelievable.
Whitford dived forward to stop the cross from the right from Grace Chalmers of St. Margaret’s. On the ground, she somehow threw her body in front of a rebound attempt by the Tartans’ Sarah Gencarella.
“That was probably one of the best high school saves I’ve seen in a long time, and I’ve been coaching for 29 years,” St. Margaret’s Coach Johnny Marmelstein said after the game. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a goalkeeper make that save in that kind of situation.”
Whitford did her best to make sure rival St. Margaret’s stayed off the scoreboard in the Academy League girls’ soccer finale. But Sage Hill, needing a victory to clinch the second league title in program history, couldn’t get on the board either at the Tartans’ field.
The resulting scoreless tie means Crean Lutheran (7-0-3 in league), which had a bye on Thursday, wins the league with 24 points. Sage Hill (7-1-2) finished second with 23 points, and St. Margaret’s (5-2-3 in league) is third. All three teams advance to the CIF Southern Section Division 5 playoffs, which begin next week.
St. Margaret’s has won league every year since Sage claimed the title in 2008. This year, the Tartans are young; Marmelstein said he started one senior, five sophomores and five freshmen in Thursday’s match. But they were happy to play spoiler against their rival.
“Every year since I’ve been here, 14 years, St. Margaret’s has had something to say about the league title,” Marmelstein said. “This year, we didn’t really. But then when the situation fell that Crean and Sage were both waiting for this game to happen, I thought, ‘OK, now St. Margaret’s still has a say in what happens in the Academy League.’ Obviously, we motivated our girls ... a little incentive doesn’t hurt.”
The hosts dominated the scoring chances. Late in regulation, they had a shot from close range brush off the top of the crossbar, but it went over the goal.
The teams played two 10-minute overtime periods. For Sage Hill, it was the second straight overtime game following last Saturday’s 1-1 tie against Crean Lutheran.
If the Lightning could score in overtime in either game, they would have won league. They generated more chances on Thursday, as senior forward Meg Crade got the goalkeeper to charge out of the goal late in the first overtime period. But Crade couldn’t quite get a clean shot off.
Late in the second overtime, Sage Hill’s Claire Novotny played the ball up to fellow sophomore Rachel Jaffe near the top of the box. But Jaffe was met with a good, physical challenge by Leila Modjtahedi, and couldn’t get a shot off.
Sage senior captain Allie Mowrey helped anchor the Lightning defense, which Coach Mike Hammond said is playing well.
“We’re not giving up goals,” Hammond said. " We’re always in the game, it doesn’t matter who we play. We’ve just got to work on our attack, [but] we’re definitely organized and strong as a unit. I think in overtime, if anyone was going to score, it was going to be us.”
Whitford said the Lightning need to regroup if they want to make a deep CIF run.
“We’ve got to take this [result] and use it to our advantage, practice even harder and put it all out there,” she said.
St. Margaret’s honored its seniors Thursday night, including Newport Beach resident Alexa Barbaresi, a defender. Other Newport Beach or CdM residents on St. Margaret’s include Alexa’s younger sister, Lizzie, along with Modjtahedi, Anne Otterbein, Kate Ramm and Angelika Robertson.