The Los Alamitos Girls soccer team advanced to the CIF Southern Section Championship match for the sixth time after a thrilling win in a penalty kick shootout before an ethusiastic packed crowd at Los Al High.
The Griffins will play Trinity League champ Santa Margarita which defeated Villa Park 1-0 in their semi-final. The game will be next Saturday at vets Stadium in Long Beach with game times to be announced.
As on Tuesday night against Mira Costa, the Griffins (18-6-5) needed a goal in the final minute of regulation (by Sofia Bugarin this time) to send the match into overtime and eventually to PKs. Freshman keeper Avarie Gonzales again came up big, getting two blocks as the Griffins outshot the Lions 3-1 in the shootout.
The first ten minutes saw both teams testing the waters. Oaks Christian seemed to carry much of the attack. The Griffins stayed with their 4-2-4 and Oaks playing only three deep backs with a five-man midfield that could quickly counter, but more often than not dropped back deep to swarm Griffin attackers. It seemed like any time a Griffin got the ball anywhere near the box, she was immediately surrounded by three, sometimes four defenders.
“They played a whole different style than they did last time,” said Griffin coach Pat Rossi.
Los Al got on the board first scoring in the 23rd minute thanks to freshman Zee Malinoski, but Oaks Christian responded less than a minute later when Berkley Mapes took advantage of a poor Los Al clearance and knocked it over Gonzales’ right arm.
Los Al started putting on more pressure which resulted in some good crosses and corner kicks, but no solid shots on goal. Then off a counter with numbers down the right side, Oaks’ got a cross to the top of the box and Sarah Spears beat Griffin keeper Avarie Gonzales to the ball and punched it into the net to give the Lions a 2-1 lead.
Los Al tried to respond and earned a direct kick for about 25 yards out, but Vivi Zacarias sent the shot just wide right before the half.
During the Lions second goal Gonzales took a knee into her right rib and was down on the field for a number of minutes.
“Her ribs were very sore for the rest of the game but despite being a freshman, she’s tough,” said Rossi.
Gonzales looked a little tentative on a couple chances early in the second half, but gained confidence as the game wore on, coming up with a number of key saves after the Griffins left her exposed as they pushed the attack in the second half.
“It’s not our style, but they were playing back so deep and packed in, we had to get numbers by sending defenders forward on runs and also dump long balls upfront to our attackers, looking for deflections or loose balls.”
The game became an uptempo up- and back affair, with senior midfielder-attackers Vivi Zacarias, and Katie Piburn and freshman Zee Malinoski showing great cuts and ball skills as they made runs seeking open space which was almost impossible to find against the Oaks Christian swarm.
Malinoski took the brunt of some tough defense and found herself knocked down hard to the ground where she lay for a number of minutes early in the second half. All that injury time would be added to the clock at the end of the half, and the Griffins needed every second of it.
Despite the injuries Rossi did not sub much. “The group has really jelled and plays so well together. There is no ‘me’ in there it is all ‘us.’ They played 100 minutes on Tuesday night and tonight was just as tough a game. It started to show.”
The Griffins started to look tired, but the Oaks Christian defenders were starting to get tired legs as well, and Los Al started finding some open looks. A 20-yard bullet by Zacarias was just wide, and had a header loop over the keeper coming out of the box, but was just over the crossbar by inches.
Sanaa Guyness also missed a soft header, and attacker Kaley Noble would make multiple strong moves to get by one defender only to find herself surrounded by three more. The Griffins earned a late corner which Vivi Zacarias put right in front of the net at the feet of sophomore Sophia Bugarin, but she could not get turned around enough to get a shot off before the Lions keeper grabbed the ball. The Griffins got off other shots but impatience or frustration saw them not getting over the ball and sending it high or wide.
With legs cramping up on both sides, the Griffins kept up the pressure, especially on runs out of the back by sophomores Victoria Bloch and Alina Perez. In the final minute, Perez got the ball up to Noble on the right side, who created just enough room to cross the ball towards the middle through a sea of legs. It slightly deflected off the outstretched foot of an Oaks Christian defender and made its way to Bugarin who pushed it into the net to tie the match.
32 seconds later after the Oaks Christian kickoff, regulation ended.
Both teams came out offensively minded in the overtime and numerous runs and near opportunities ensued, but good defensive plays by both teams sent the game into penalty kicks.
Noble opened the PKs by nailing it into the right side. Gonzales then calmly blocked the first Oaks attempt. Guyness then converted her attempt and so did the Lions. Zacarias made her kick, and Gonzales recorded a second block, giving a 3-1 lead. Natalie Lobo’s try was grabbed by the keeper and then the fourth Oaks players kick hit the cross bar and bounced over to give Los Al the win. [see the PK sequence at right on Los Al Police Chief Michael Claborn’s IG account. Note: Last night’s game was the CIF Southern Section semi-final not the State semifinal)
Now Los Al looks forward to their Section Final match with Santa Margarita which brings in an 18-2-2 mark. The two teams, both perennially among the top teams in the Southern Section’s Division I, have a long very competitive history, including a 1-0 Griffin win over the Eagles in the 2005 semi-finals when the Eagles were among the top teams in the nation led by All-Americans Kiki Bosio and future national team member Amy Rodriguez. Los Al went on to defeat Mater Dei for that championship and received the Nation’s #1 ranking.
This will be the Lady Griffins’ sixth visit to the CIF championship match. They won in 1996 and 1997 and 2005. They came up short in 2009 and 2018.
Oaks Christian finishes their season at 19-3-1 with Los Alamitos responsible for two of those defeats.