PASADENA — Firmly entrenched in a chase for first place and a repeat as Prep League champions, the Flintridge Prep girls' soccer team's title hopes remained intact on Tuesday afternoon.
Sustaining a lackluster first half, before showcasing their offensive might in the second half, the Rebels saw standout senior forward Brooke Elby score twice and tally an assist, as Prep fended off Mayfield, 3-2, at Jackie Robinson Park.
"We're in a good position and we can't give that up," said Elby, whose performance led the Rebels to improving their record to 13-3-2 overall and 5-1-1 in league to move them into first place with a point advantage over an idle Pasadena Poly. "We're the team that everyone wants to get. There's definitely pressure on us. Being on top, everyone wants to get you."
Mayfield (5-6-3, 2-3-2) had gotten to Prep once before in a nonleague tournament matchup, but the Rebels, who were short-handed in the teams' first encounter, swept the league series to emerge with 11 points, while Poly, which will play Chadwick in a pivotal match today, sits at 4-1-2 with 10 points.
All of the match's goals came in the final 40 minutes, with Elby scoring in the 43rd minute and again in the 65th minute, just a minute after Mayfield had tied the match on a penalty kick. The quick rebound by the Rebels proved to be a turning point.
"The one thing I was happy about is," said Rebels Coach Esteban Chavez, "it wasn't beautiful soccer, but we got scored on on a gift and we answered right back. That killed [Mayfield]."
Still, it was Kaitlyn Kelleher's tally off an Elby corner kick that gave the Rebels a 3-1 lead and proved to be the game-winner, as Mayfield struck on a corner kick during the first minute of injury time.
A first-half lull and some controversial officiating proved to be the two largest problems for the Rebels.
Chavez and his staff took exception to the game-tying penalty kick by Elena Buckley, as they maintained that the infraction was just outside the goal box and that earlier in the match the head official had waved off at least two handballs and told the players to play on. When Buckley's corner was converted by Emily Balfour for Mayfield's second goal, Rebels goalie Casey Cousineau had been interfered with before the kick and was on the ground after the goal due to contact.
"He was really inconsistent," said Chavez of the lead official.
In the opening half, however, Prep proved to be its worst enemy. Though the Rebels didn't play poorly, they appeared at times to be going through the motions and never got going offensively. Defensively, the likes of Connell Studenmund, Abby Letts and Whitney Cohen preserved a scoreless opening half.
"We weren't necessarily cocky, but we were thinking, last game we beat them 4-1," said Elby in reference to the teams' first league match. "We were off our game. Our touches were off, our placement. Everything was off."
In the second half, that immediately changed.
Chavez made the tactical change of going from three forwards to two and putting extra help in the midfield to combat Mayfield stretching out the Prep offense. That, coupled with a renewed sense of urgency lit the Rebels' fire from the get-go.
"We kind of all realized we need to step it up," Elby said.
An Arielle Baptiste cross from deep on the right side found Alina Okamoto, who flicked the ball in front of the net, where Elby sprinted on to boot home a 1-0 advantage.
Just three minutes later, Baptiste crossed a shot that ran just left of the frame. And only minutes later, Kaelin King lined a shot just left of the frame.
"We had a lot of opportunities," said Chavez, whose team outshot Mayfield, 16-6. "It's in our hands to try and win league again. Why not have that fire from the beginning?"
While the fire didn't seem to diminish, the lead did, as Mayfield worked its way down the field on four straight throw-ins before a ball to the edge of the box hit Kate Lyon's right hand and the Cubs were awarded a penalty kick. Buckley went left on her shot and tied the match at 1 in the 64th minute.
But it was Lyon who led the Rebels right back.
Lyon brought the ball up the heart of the field before a pinpoint pass found King on the left wing, where she sent a beautiful cross inside to a streaking Elby in the 65th minute for a 2-1 lead.
"I have to give it to Kate Lyon, she just came right back. I give her props for that," said Elby, who now has 24 goals on the season. "It was just a perfect teammate moment."
An Elby corner later in the half skipped off the head of Okamoto and in front of Kelleher to round out the Rebels' scoring.
With a league match against Webb on Friday, regardless of today's outcome between Poly and Chadwick, the Rebels control their own destiny as they can win out and win the league crown outright.