First-place showdown goes to CV

LA CRESCENTA — With an upstart Pasadena High girls’ soccer squad in the mix of a three-way tie atop the Pacific League, three-time defending champion Crescenta Valley knew Friday afternoon’s first-place showdown was a big game, indeed.

But, as the Falcons took shot after shot and a scoreless tie was still all to show, it was clear that the CV sideline and backline were growing frustrated.

Then, up stepped speedy freshman Grace Keller, whose off-balance, left-footed shot caromed off the far post and in for a 59th-minute goal that sparked the Falcons to a 2-0 win at home on Friday afternoon over the Bulldogs.

“We were pretty much controlling the game, but we were in a hurry to score,” said Keller, who scored her first varsity goal in her third varsity game. “I felt like it was gonna go in. ... I didn’t see the goalie in good position, so that’s why I took the shot.”

A Sharon Lee header off an Olivia Bird corner kick 17 minutes later put the game out of reach for Pasadena (8-3-2, 3-1-1), as Crescenta Valley (6-3-1, 4-0-1) walked away still in first place.

“They knew they had to perform today,” said Falcons Coach Jorden Schulz. “We knew we were in for a game.”

Pasadena went back and forth with the defending champions for roughly the first 10 minutes, but while the Falcons’ frustrations grew with missed shots — they outshot the Bulldogs, 21-4 — the Bulldogs began to wear down, as Crescenta Valley was clearly the more physical squad.

“Everyone in league is a lot more physical than we are,” Pasadena Coach Kamiko Johnson said. “It definitely messes with you mentally and physically.”

Taking a large portion of the physicality was sophomore Samantha Koemans, who was, in large part, the only offensive nuisance to the Falcons, especially with Bulldogs leading goal scorer Amanda Speks sidelined with a foot injury that kept her out for the last three games.

“[Koemans’] back’s pretty messed up. Every hit, it gets worse. That’s soccer sometimes,” Johnson said. “[Speks will] be back next week. I think [her absence] makes a difference. It makes a difference in attacking.”

For a large majority of the match, though, Crescenta Valley was on the attack. Facilitated by a standout defensive effort led by an outstanding performance from Mallory Carcich along with the play of a returning Dani Busta, Bird and Sierra Rhodes, the offensive pressure for CV was started by the defense in large part.

“It’s good when our defenders start our attack from [Pasadena’s] 40,” Schulz said. “It makes the other team feel like the ball’s being shoved down their throat.”

Keller provided a spark early on, splitting two defenders to cause a breakaway before she was fouled and drew a free kick from 24 yards out. Carcich took the ensuing kick from straight on that clanged off the left post.

“She will not stop running,” Schulz said of Keller. “I knew she would be an offensive threat. She’s not afraid of getting hit and she’s not afraid to hit.”

While opportunities came in abundance for the Falcons, Pasadena’s only good chance of the second half came when Koemans spun and dribbled her way past three defenders along the left sideline before taking a shot off the wing that was nicely saved by Jessi Magallon, who had three saves in the shutout — the Falcons’ fourth in league play.

Seconds later, Crescenta Valley countered with an opportunity of its own when Cassandra Orozco took a low shot that was deflected by a defender and changed course only to be stopped by a diving save from Venice Santos, who made 10 on the day.

“It comes down to finishing,” Schulz said. “We can wear them down as much as we want, but if you don’t put the ball in the back of the net, nobody cares.”

For the Bulldogs, despite the sting of their first league loss, Johnson said her team needs to forget about Friday’s downfall, but was also quick to look forward to the teams’ Feb. 3 rematch at Pasadena.

“We gotta move on,” she said. “This gives us a little motivation. I’m ready to take it home and have a different result next time.”

Crescenta Valley entertains last-place Muir on Tuesday before rivalry Friday and a showdown with archrival Arcadia, which tied Pasadena, 1-1, on Wednesday and entered the day in first place when it took on Burroughs (a score was unavailable at press time).

“It feels pretty good,” said Keller of the Pasadena win. “We knew it was gonna be a big game because they tied Arcadia.”

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