LA CAÑADA — The Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy soccer team was on the cusp of a CIF Southern Section title, but to reach that hallowed ground the Tologs needed to slay a Goliath in the form of top-seeded Oak Hills.
Alas, it was not to be.
Flintridge Sacred Heart fell in the final by the slimmest of margins, 1-0, to the visiting Bulldogs, who captured the Division III championship Saturday at St. Francis High School.
“These girls are just incredible,” Tologs assistant coach Savannah Viola said of her squad. “Honestly, they have so much heart and it was really apparent the entire game, but Oak Hills is an extremely athletic team and they came through. They played really well.”
Oak Hills (22-2-2) showed the success it has enjoyed throughout the playoffs by extending its unbeaten streak to 23 games. The Bulldogs also posted their 15th shutout of the season at the expense of Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy (11-5-3), which placed second in the Mission League.
“I had a good feeling we would be able to shut someone out if we could just control the middle and we did that tonight,” Oak Hills coach Joe Kulm said. “That is a tough team we were playing against for sure. You can see why they are here. They are a quality program.”
In the 21st minute, Oak Hills’ Kolo Suliafu netted the lone goal of the contest with Tupou Suliafu recording the assist. Tupou Suliafu gained control of the ball along the visitors’ backline and booted the ball straight up the field down the middle. Her pass sailed over the backline of the Tologs. Kolo Suliafu sprinted down the field, draped with a Tologs defender. The pass came down over her shoulder, and the freshman reached a foot out and chipped the ball with one touch over the goalkeeper and into the net.
“It was a heck of a game and [FSHA] is a heck of a team,” Kulm said. “[We were successful] finding the space behind their backs. We’ve had some dynamic players all year long being able to expose that space, and they did it again tonight and got us the goal we needed to win.”
Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy dominated play in the second half as Oak Hills packed in its defense, content to sit on the its lead. However, despite having the Bulldogs back on their heels, the Tologs never could find an equalizer.
“We recognized that in the second half we had to come out even harder,” said Tologs senior Jillian Willis, who scored the winning goal in Flintridge Sacred Heart’s 1-0 overtime win against Downey on Feb. 16. “Unfortunately, even though we dominated, we just couldn’t finish our chances.”
Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy’s best chance to score came with 33:09 left in the contest off a set piece. Tologs Madison Leroy got fouled, giving her team a free kick from the right side from 21 yards out. Junior Emily Gomez took the kick, sending it around the two-Bulldog wall into the center of the box. Hillary Howard got a foot on the ball and a clean chance, but her shot attempt sailed over the net.
The Tologs manufactured numerous scoring chances in the frantic final minutes. The most dangerous came off the the foot of Gomez with 5:33 left to play, on a free kick from 33 yards out that the Bulldogs goalie had to leap and tip over the crossbar.
Despite the loss, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy still came away with a plaque and a place in school history. The Tologs started the season as a work in progress and finished with the school’s first appearance in the finals since 2011, when it defeated San Clemente to win the Division I title.
The Tologs also earned a spot in the state playoffs, which begin next week,
“If you would have told me at the beginning of the season we were going to the CIF finals, I’d probably have laughed in your face,” Willis said. “I’m so proud of this team. From where we were at the beginning of the season and coming this far. It’s been an incredible experience.”