La Cañada High girls' soccer's perfect run ends in title match

CORONA — A handball call in the 97th minute within a second overtime session and a penalty-kick goal seconds later ended a perfect season for the La Cañada High girls’ soccer team by quite imperfect means.

St. Margaret’s senior defender Alexa Barbaresi converted a penalty kick into the far left of the net past a diving attempt by Spartans sophomore goalie Kaitlyn Corral in the 98th minute for the golden goal game-winner as the Tartans defeated La Cañada, 1-0, in overtime of the CIF Southern Section Division V championships at Corona High on Saturday afternoon.

“This is the first La Cañada team to ever go this far and I thought they did great,” Spartans Coach Louie Bilowitz said of his squad’s inaugural visit to a CIF title match. “We were not really on our game today, but there’s no question that I thought we had the possession today.

“We played a good game, we had our chances and we didn’t put them away and that’s soccer. I’m not going to blame a loss on the penalty kick. The loss came from [us having] a lot of opportunities to score and we either didn’t make the right run or we missed the ball. It just wasn’t our day.”

The game, one that included few fouls and didn’t involve a card, turned for both teams when a Spartans defender was called for a handball inside the penalty area in the 97th minute.

St. Margaret’s (12-10-6), a wild-card team and third-place finisher from the Academy League, turned to Barbaresi, who had missed on two shots on goal stopped by Corral.

This time, though, Barbaresi fired a brilliant shot far post by the outstretched fingers of Corral, who correctly dove left, but just missed.

“I didn’t really see the call,” said Tartans Coach Johnny Marmelstein, whose squad picked up a controversial forfeit victory versus La Quinta en route to the title. “I thought maybe we had fouled. When I saw the official put his hands up (handball signal), I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ It’s going to end with our senior captain, with her ability to hit the game-winner, taking our last shot.”

Despite finishing with nine saves and leaping in the proper direction on the penalty kick, Corral was nearly inconsolable afterward.

“I guessed the right way and I honestly thought I was going to get it,” said Corral, a transfer from San Marino High. “Sometimes it’s just for the other team and today wasn’t our day.”

Rio Hondo League-champion La Cañada (22-1-1) won the shots battle, 15-13, but couldn’t finish, thanks in part to solid goalkeeping from Tartans freshman keeper Hillary Beall (nine saves).

Third-seeded La Cañada appeared to have the game-winner when a corner kick from junior midfielder Natalie Ragusa was laced in between two defenders and into the path of junior forward Megan Decker, who one-timed a five-foot header that Beall saved with a diving stop in the 88th minute.

The Spartans’ only other dangerous offensive try in overtime came in the 83rd minute when Ragusa threaded the needle on a through ball to a streaking Katherine Sheehy, who was called offsides just as she was about to fire a 20-yard one-on-one try versus Beall.

La Cañada’s best offensive looks may have taken place within a 13-minute span in the second half that began with a 25-yard rocket from senior Katie Wagner that led to a lunging save from Beall.

Shortly after, Spartans junior forward Cassy Quiring nearly turned into the match’s hero when she whipped a five-yard header off a cross from Decker in the 69th minute that a sprawling Beall just knocked out of play.

Two minutes later, the Spartans had a wide-open net when Ragusa passed to Decker, who fired a cross around Beall, who was out of position.

Fortunately for St. Margaret’s, Sheehy was also two feet too far to reach the pass and score what would have been a tap-in goal.

While La Cañada’s offense had trouble getting going, especially when the Tartans loaded their defensive backfield, the Spartans defense also held, including when Corral punched out a floating shot from Tartans junior forward Madison Beach in the 72nd minute.

A relatively even first half produced no scores and only a few solid looks for both teams as St. Margaret’s won the shots total, 6-4.

Perhaps La Cañada’s best attempt came in the 34th minute when Spartans junior Simone Weinstein crossed from the middle of the penalty area to Quiring.

The Spartans striker lofted a shot from the corner of the 18 that required a back-pedaling save from Beall.

“The luck wasn’t with us today,” Quiring said. “We just couldn’t get the ball in the net and ultimately that’s the way it ended.”

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