NORTHEAST GLENDALE — Looking far removed from the team that won a CIF Southern Section Division I championship a season ago and dazzled its faithful en route to the greatest girls' soccer campaign in area history earlier this year, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy's soccer squad figuratively limped to the finish at its annual Los Tacos Holiday Festival on Wednesday afternoon at the Glendale Sports Complex.
Handed consecutive shutouts for the first time since December of 2008, the Tologs fell in pool-play Wednesday morning to Saugus, 1-0, before coming up on the short end in a third-place match against West Ranch, 0-0 (4-2).
"We've had three chances to step up to the next level — against St. Lucy's, Saugus and West Ranch — and we've failed to step up all three times," said Tologs co-Coach Frank Pace in reference to a Dec. 17 1-0 loss to St. Lucy's and Wednesday's pair of setbacks, with the trio of games coming against arguably the team's toughest opposition thus far.
The loss to Saugus ended a 13-game winning streak for Sacred Heart at its host tournament and also ended its two-year run as tournament champion. Corona del Mar bested Saugus, 1-0, to win the championship.
Saugus defeated Sacred Heart on the strength of a goal in the first 10 minutes when a Centurion was left unmarked on a throw-in and headed in a score. And though the defense — which has seemingly been in a state of personnel flux throughout the season — has dealt with its share of scrutiny, both of the Tologs' losses and their lone tie have come via the offense being shut out. Against Saugus, Pace said the Tologs (7-2-1) had plenty of opportunities that simply weren't cashed in.
It wasn't as much the same case against West Ranch (8-1-1), which outshot the Tologs, 13-8, including the game's first five shots, as the Tologs looked out of sorts and were out hustled throughout.
"We just have to have a sense of urgency and take what we do on the practice field to the games," Pace said. "We spent the whole day today jamming the ball up the middle instead of going wide."
After the game's initial 10 minutes in which the Wildcats dictated possession, the Tologs took over, in large part, in that category, but West Ranch still took more shots and created more opportunities. In the second half, the Tologs had four shots — all saved by Wildcats keeper Logan Byan-Taylor — but all four, two each from Breeana Koemans and Lauren Torres, were from long distance.
Tologs goalie Lindsay Espe had six saves, while the defense, though it did relinquish its share of scares, was led by solid performances from Katelyn Almeida and Alexa Montgomery.
The match went into a shootout with West Ranch's Valerie Mercado, Hailey Reynolds and Savanah Tujague converting on the Wildcats' first three shots, while Byan-Taylor stopped one of the Tologs' offerings, another hit the crossbar and only Koemans found the back of the net. Espe saved the Wildcats' fourth attempt on a dive to her right, but after the fourth score West Ranch clinched third place.
On a side note, senior standout Katie Johnson, who has missed the entire season recovering from knee surgery, converted the Tologs' second penalty kick, but Pace confirmed it wasn't the beginning of her comeback.
"No, she can't play," said Pace, who's also missing fellow All-CIF standouts Tera Trujillo and Krista Meaglia with knee injuries. "She's hungry to play, but she can't have contact."
Though the Tologs are ranked No. 1 in Division I, that's likely to change when the CIF offices return from winter break and any sign of a Sacred Heart comeback will likely have to come quick, as the Tologs open up Mission League play against archrival Harvard-Westlake on Jan. 4 on the road.
"I know we'll come to play against Harvard-Westlake," Pace said. "We didn't play today — we'll come to play against Harvard-Westlake."