LOS ANGELES — When faced with an opponent with a lesser pedigree on Tuesday, the Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy soccer team struggled to the point that only penalty-kick heroics could save its season.
"When we get a chance to go out and play soccer, we're pretty good," said Tologs co-Coach Frank Pace, who got goals from Katie Johnson, Breeana Koemans and Sarah Teegarden en route to a 3-1 win over Tesoro at Occidental College.
In a 0-0 (4-3) second-round victory on Tuesday against Aliso Niguel, an at-large entry, Sacred Heart (19-1-1) struggled to find its game and rhythm against an opponent that played long ball. Against a Tesoro squad (15-3-6) that essentially tried to match Sacred Heart with a similar style, the Tologs looked to find their footing early and did so with a beautiful score from Katie Johnson that seemed to open everything up.
"The first goal in a game like this is gonna be critical," Pace said.
Added Koemans: "We knew they had a great offense. For us to score first, that gave us so much momentum."
It was momentum that was briefly lost with a 47th-minute score by Tesoro's Cailey Starck, but regained on a brilliant sequence that ended with a Koemans score that stood as the game-winner, propelling the Tologs to their second consecutive CIF semifinal berth, this time in Division I after last season's Division II ascent.
"Everyone has their goals and we knew it was gonna be a really big struggle," Koemans said of moving up to Division I and particularly facing a swell of Orange Country opposition. "We've just been working really hard and playing for each other. And I'm grateful we have made it this far.
"To make it to the semifinals is great."
Sacred Heart will face second-seeded Esperanza, which posted a 1-0 win against Mission Viejo, on the road in a semifinal match Tuesday.
Scoring opened Thursday with the hustle of Tologs junior midfielder Tera Trujillo, who worked for the ball and passed it up to an off-balance Koemans, who one-timed a pass, flicking it up the field to Johnson. Johnson took the ball in stride and moved past a defender on her right hip, while streaking left to the near post. Drawing goalie Ashley Penton to the near post, Johnson was somehow able to blast a shot with her right foot inside the far post for a magnificent score.
"Tera pinged it to me and it pinged off me and it pinged just high enough to beat the defender," said Koemans of the 24th-minute goal. "[Johnson] buried it."
Tesoro's offense took its share of shots, 18 in all to just eight for the Tologs. However, most of the Titans' shots were far off frame and taken from distance. When they were on frame, goalie Samantha Dier was at her best, making seven saves, including two phenomenal stops in the final seconds of the match — which ran some seven minutes into extra time.
The Titans' lone score came due to a defensive miscue as the Tologs defense was unable to clear and a hustling Katelyn Almeida then dove to save a ball from going out of bounds, but it went right to a Titan, who crossed to Starck, who buried a goal to tie the match.
But the Tologs didn't hesitate to answer on a goal that matched the passing precision of their first.
It began with Kayla Mills bringing the ball up from the defensive third and sensationally moving past two Titans before playing the ball up to Johnson. Johnson moved inside and then stopped and played a heal pass back to a streaking Alyssa Conti. Conti moved up the sideline before letting go on a pinpoint pass that split a pair of defenders and was placed in front of Koemans. As Starck sprinted forward to challenge and sprawled, Koemans was able to tap the ball forward just enough before leaping to avoid Starck. Koemans' shot slowly rolled just inside the far post for a 2-1 advantage in the 52nd minute.
"The ball did get a little far from me," Koemans said. "I poked it with my toe and then I just turned my hips and was like please go in, please go in.
"We took their momentum away and we brought it right back to us."
The game-clinching score came from the left foot of sophomore midfielder Sarah Teegarden in the 65th minute. Koemans put a corner kick right on frame with Starck punching it away. Teegarden was in the right spot for the rebound and booted a low shot that Starck never saw.
"They're a very good defense and we scored three goals on them," Pace said. "We did a good job of moving the ball around today."
Moving forward, the Tologs, the third seed in the tournament and 14th-ranked team in the nation according to ESPN Rise, have a chance to advance to the first CIF Southern Section final in program history should they prevail on Tuesday. But Pace is well aware of the gauntlet his team is currently running.
"It's the most rigorous high school soccer tournament in America," said Pace of the Division I tourney. "This tournament has so many good teams."
And Sacred Heart is among them, one of the top four, in fact.