LA CAÑADA — In the 59th minute of its biggest game to date, pitted against what proved to be one of the more formidable opponents of the season, the La Cañada High girls’ soccer team broke a scoreless tie and prompted cheers from the Spartans faithful for the first time of an, at-times, nervous afternoon.
The 67th minute saw the Spartans tack on a second score and all but seal a victory in the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division V playoffs versus the visiting California Condors.
The insurance goal didn’t prove necessary at La Cañada High on Wednesday, as Megan Decker’s goal with 21 minutes to play stood as the game-winner in a 2-0 victory for a Spartans team that is yet to allow a goal in the postseason and earns them a berth in the quarterfinals.
“It’s nice to move on,” said Spartans Coach Louie Bilowitz, whose squad has not lost in 21 matches this season, including two postseason contests. “I don’t think we played well, but that’s a credit to their team. The girls worked so hard, I thought they were overly pumped and hyper, and that’s my fault.”
After hosting playoff games with Heritage Christian and California, the Spartans (20-0-1), Rio Hondo League champions and the tournament’s No. 3 seed, will travel to face Sage Hill (14-5-4) of Newport Beach on Friday at 3 p.m.
The Condors played La Cañada tough, particularly in a scoreless first half that saw a pair of Spartans goals wiped away — one on an offsides call nullifying a Katherine Sheehy score and the second to Cassy Quiring’s chagrin after the referee ruled that the ball fired into the back of the net by La Cañada’s left winger was still in the grasp of California’s keeper.
By Bilowitz’ account, the Spartans missed four point-blank shots in the first half, and, coupled with the two goals overturned, put the onus on the defense to keep the score tied until La Cañada did the seemingly inevitable.
Midway through the second half, a steady attack throughout the match resulted in the treasured goal when Quiring set up Decker, who was in stride and needed only a couple steps before she lined up a shot past the diving goalkeeper.
It was Decker assisting on a goal eight minutes after her own, as she gained possession of a ball and showed patience while surveying the field. Then she found Sheehy in the middle of the field and the right winger did the rest, connecting on the game’s second and final goal.
“At first I wanted to go to the end line and cross it, but then I saw Katherine open and saw that she had the most space and was the best decision,” said Decker, who assisted on the team’s third goal in Friday’s first-round match with Heritage Christian — one in which the Spartans won handily, 4-0.
La Cañada compiled 12 shots on goal before Decker’s goal and finished with 15.
“We were getting our chances, so I thought we would pull out a goal eventually,” Bilowitz said.
La Cañada’s defense, with keeper Kaitlyn Corral on the back end, staved off a California team that put together 13 shots on goal.
“Their team did well in the midfield, but they didn’t do anything in the top third,” Bilowitz said. “We were running all over the place and were just too hyper.”
The Spartans will look to continue an undefeated campaign on the road.
“We stay motivated and motivate each other,” Decker said. “When our enthusiasm is up, we work together and that’s the key to our success.”