When the whistle blew, the tears flowed nonstop from members of the Mater Academy girls soccer team. But the tears were tears of joy, not despair as the Lions were busy storming the center of the field and celebrating their first-ever district championship in the program’s history.
Mater had just put the finishing touches on a mild upset of the Miami Springs, High School girls soccer team winning 2-1 in the District 16-4A championship game last Friday night (Jan. 18) at Traz Powell Stadium. Mater (23-2-1), which suffered an 8-1 loss to Springs in the regular season, will move on and host Hollywood McArthur this Wednesday (Jan. 23) at Traz Powell in a regional quarterfinal contest.
Meanwhile the Golden Hawks (15-5-4), who had won their district title seven out of the previous eight years going into Friday, will travel to Broward County to take on South Broward in Hollywood on Wednesday evening. Should Springs and Mater both win, they would meet in a rematch this Saturday, Jan. 26 in a regional semifinal elimination game. (Visit www.miamiherald.com/river-cities on Thursday, Jan. 24 for results).
“Just one of those nights where not much worked,” said Springs head coach William Drew. “I thought we were pretty flat in the first half and came out a little more aggressive in the second half. But give Mater credit as well, they played very well tonight and hopefully we’ll get another shot at them next week.”
The game-winning goal came in the game’s 71st minute when, with the game tied 1-1, Mater’s Elexus Martin took a centering pass and let go of a shot from 25 yards out that didn’t appear too threatening. Springs keeper Jenacil Villar was in position to make the easy save but, with a wet surface from some light rain that had fallen minutes earlier, the ball appeared to skip on her and took a strange hop, getting past her and hitting the back of the net.
After a scoreless first half, Mater took a 1-0 lead just one minute into the second half when junior Karly Villar (no relation to Jenacil) took a centering pass and, from about 20 yards out, let go of a perfect shot that just snuck inside the right bar past a diving Jenacil.
Springs, which struggled to get much offense going up until that point began to press the action and finally found the back of the net in the game’s 59th minute when Ale Salazar centered a shot into the right flat and sophomore Annette Cea sent it into the bottom left corner of the net tying the game at one.
“Ale gave me a perfect pass and I had a perfect clear window to shoot and shelved it bottom left,” said Cea. “I really thought once we tied the game we would seize the momentum and be okay but it didn’t happen.
For a few minutes it did. Just two minutes later, Springs’ Sophia De la Puente let go of a perfect arching shot from 30 yards out that cleared Mater keeper Julia Sanchez’s hands and hit the bottom of the crossbar bouncing straight down. That’s when controversy ensued as the linesman appeared to cross his hands indicating a goal that would have put the Lady Hawks in front. But no whistle blew from either the linesman or the referee and play continued much to the confusion and chagrin of Springs players.
“I’ve been playing soccer for 14 years and know what it means when a linesman crosses his hands,” said Salazar. “We actually started celebrating our goal but for some reason they kept playing on. I honestly think we win this game if that call stands but it didn’t.”
The “no-goal” call appeared to sap a little zip from the Springs players and 10 minutes later, Martin delivering the game-winner for the Lions.
“So much heartache through the years that it really makes you appreciate a moment like this,” said Mater head coach Luis Sanchez who has developed the program from its inception in 2004. “What a thrill to see those girls celebrating out there. We were so close so many times including a shootout loss to Key West a couple of years ago. The girls did a good job tonight of just simply playing good assignment soccer, staying away from mistakes and taking advantage of the opportunities when they came.”
But all of the disappointment from Friday night still did nothing to offset the excitement from two nights earlier when the Springs girls were locked in a tough, scoreless, overtime duel with rival Goleman in a district semifinal contest at Traz Powell. And the stakes were much higher in this one because if you lose your district semifinal, your season is over.
Four minutes into the first overtime, Springs saw its season continue and Goleman’s end when freshman Alyssa Deno took a perfect line pass from Debbie Yance and broke free down the left side. She then powered a shot with her left leg goalward toward Goleman keeper Ann Marie Rodriguez who saw the ball glance off the top of her hands and go under the crossbar into the back of the net ending the game and sending the Lady Hawks players storming onto the field for a group hug with Deno.
“Debbie (Yance) sent me a perfect line pass that enabled me to beat my defender down the line,” said Deno. “When I saw their keeper commit, I just let it go. It’s so exciting to be able to make a big play and contribute to the team being a freshman and all.”
Later that night, Mater defeated American 2-0 in the other semifinal setting up the championship game 48 hours later.