Flintridge Sacred Heart soccer works overtime to reach CIF championship

DOWNEY — At the beginning of the season, the Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy soccer team appeared to be a work in progress.

About 10 weeks later, the Tologs are now anything but that. Instead, they’ve marched their way to a CIF Southern Section championship match despite having to rebuild most of their defense entering the campaign.

With coach Mark Snashall in Australia on a business trip, Flintridge Sacred Heart continued its amazing playoff journey. Yet, it came with some suspense and ultimately a golden goal.

Flintridge Sacred Heart received the match-winning goal from Jillian Willis in the 14th minute of overtime to earn a hard-fought 1-0 win against host Downey on Saturday in a Division III semifinal contest.

An uncovered Willis took a nifty pass from Lauren Bolte and launched a 12-yard shot inside the right post past Downey goalkeeper Almareli Quintero to send Flintridge Sacred Heart (11-4-3) to its first championship match since winning the Division I crown against San Clemente in 2011.

Flintridge Sacred Heart, which took second in the Mission League after winning the title last season, will face top-seeded Oak Hills ( 21-2-2) in the title match at a time, date and location to be determined. Oak Hills registered a 1-0 win against Culver City earlier Saturday at home.

“It’s just an amazing feeling right now and we’ve definitely come along way since the start of the season,” Willis said. “We were a work in progress at the start of the year, but we’ve gotten better.

“I thought we played very well in the last 15 minutes of the second half and throughout overtime. We were coming close. I was so nervous going into overtime. Lauren made a great pass to me and I saw the ball coming to me and I put it in the bottom right of the net.”

Bolte, a reigning All-Area selection, had an opportunity to shoot before making a perfect pass to Willis.

Bolte was thrilled with her decision.

“There’s was room for me to shoot,” Bolte said. “Usually when I’m dribbling, I keep my head down, but I looked up and saw Jillian wide open.

“We know we can count on her and she made a great shot. It’s so awesome to be able to get this far and we just want to keep going. We battled against a very good team over there.”

Flintridge Sacred Heart and Downey (17-6-5, second in the San Gabriel Valley League) played evenly in the first half.

Flintridge Sacred Heart assistant Savannah Viola, who was a member of the 2011 title-winning squad and also helped the Tologs win the CIF Southern California Regional Division III crown in 2010, said the Tologs stayed patient.

“We had some chances and we just missed [in the second half],” Viola said. “We liked the way we were playing and we tried to carry that over into overtime.

“Then you have Lauren make a terrific pass and Jillian finishes it just like that. It says something about our players and the amazing soccer they are playing. It’s an awesome feeling.”

Downey, which won CIF championships in 2012 and 2013 after reaching the finals in 2011, had a couple of golden scoring chances in the first half.

Flintridge Sacred Heart goalkeeper Joshlyn Aguirre stopped Alexis Macias and Roxanne Victoria in the sixth and 10th minutes, respectively.

Aguirre, who finished with nine saves, foiled Macias in the 54th minute to keep the match scoreless.

Willis lined a shot just wide of the right post in the 74th minute. Just minutes earlier, Madison Leroy of Flintridge Sacred Heart was stopped inside the box by Quintero (seven saves).

Flintridge Sacred Heart had playoff wins against Dos Pueblos, Serrano and South Torrance before dispatching Downey.

Twitter: @TCNCharlesRich