LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — There were concerns coming into the season from La Cañada High girls' soccer Coach Louie Bilowitz that his team's youth could be a weakness.
The Spartans, who carry six freshmen and eight sophomores on their 18-player roster, used youth to their advantage at home against Ocean View in the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division VI playoffs Wednesday, however, as freshman forward Natalie Ragusa scored La Cañada's first and only goal in a 1-0 win.
Unfortunately, Bilowitz wasn't there to see it as he stayed home with flu-like symptoms and assistant Anya Rosen stepped in to lead the team.
"The girls really came together, they were really nervous," Rosen said. "It was unexpected that he wasn't going to be here. They were ready to win, they were on their toes and they were anxious. They wanted to prove they could do it without him here."
La Cañada goalie Haley Austin, who finished with five saves, is happy Bilowitz will receive some good news.
"It was quite sad and a little nerve wracking [without Bilowitz] because Anya hasn't coached us before," Austin said. "It's going to be exciting to tell Louie we won a game and we're going to keep playing so he can see us play again."
The win puts La Cañada on the road at top-seeded Hemet Friday at 3 p.m. after it beat Garden Grove, 6-1, Wednesday.
"Hemet was obviously first place last year and Garden Grove is pretty good," Austin said. "I think this means we have to leave school at 11 a.m. on Friday so you know, I'm not going to complain."
Ragusa's goal put the finishing touch on a game La Cañada (13-2-4) had been dominating, but was unable to finish.
"It was really great and it was a beautiful goal — it wasn't a fluke — it came off some really good passing," Rosen said. "The team was obviously finding their groove. It took them a while, but it felt really nice to have the goal finally."
The Spartans held a 22-10 shot advantage over the Seahawks (19-6-1) and had two shots go off the post in the first half before finally getting in front on Ragusa's bending right-to-left shot from the middle of the box in the 55th minute.
"It was the best feeling I've ever had," Ragusa said. "I just wait for that feeling, I loved it."
The buildup began when La Cañada sophomore defender Taylor Afshar stole a ball at midfield and began a counter-attack with a pass down the middle of the field to streaking senior captain Morgan Rittichier.
Rittichier controlled the ball on the right side of Ocean View's box before laying a pass off into the middle of the box to an unmarked Ragusa, who bent a shot into the net.
"I just cut inside and shot to the far post," said Ragusa, who felt it was going in as soon as it left her foot. "I knew it was going right where I wanted."
La Cañada's defense had been solid until that point, but the Seahawks pushed a player up and began creating some chances.
Ocean View's best crack came in the 63rd minute when Christian Smith took a deep throw into La Cañada's box and fired a shot that was corralled by Austin.
Things were tense in the final 10 minutes as Ocean View created three corner kicks and two deep throws, but couldn't get one past Austin, who spoiled two Seahawks corners by running out and snagging the ball out of the air.
"I had no problem with the defense. Maybe just don't make it so nerve-wracking at the end," said Austin, who praised the play of her junior center defender Kara Lankey. "Kara kept getting half a touch on the ball to shoot it off and save us. I thank her so much for that."