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Aliso Niguel saves best comeback for last
DOWNEY - In a season that was defined by a habitual ability to overcome deficits in the biggest of matches, the Aliso Niguel girls soccer team produced its most impressive rally of the season to come away with an improbable regional title Saturday.
Freshman Lauren Miller capped a stunning three-goal, second-half rally with the go-ahead goal in the 66th minute, as the Wolverines edged Los Osos of Ranchho Cucamonga, 3-2, in the CIF Southern California Regional Division 1 championship match at Warren High.
“I’m so happy I was able to do this for the seniors who have done so much for me,” Miller said. “We came out soft and weren’t finishing our chances, but we knew that we could come back and we did.”
Junior Lindsay Doyle scored twice in a four-minute span as Aliso Niguel (23-1-4) handed Los Osos (25-1-3) its first and only defeat of the season.
The Wolverines join San Clemente (2009) and Esperanza (2010) as the only county teams to win both the CIF-SS Division 1 and CIF Division 1 Regional championships in the same season.
Aliso Niguel, which came from behind to win in the title matches of the Aliso Cup, the Mater Dei Premier Invitational and the CIF-SS Division 1 championship match, will also likely finish the season as the No.1 ranked team in the country according to ESPN Rise. The Wolverines entered the match ranked No. 2 behind Los Osos.
“This came from our heart, desire and passion,” Wolverines coach Randy Dodge said. "We went down 2-0 to a great team that hadn’t lost all season and scored three goals with not a lot of time left.
"We’ve been the comeback kids all season, and we fight, scratch and claw to get back in the game.”
Defense was the story early in the match as the Grizzlies’ backline defenders stopped the Wolverines' initial offensive attack of the match.
Aliso Niguel’s defense, led by juniors Nicole Smolinski and Breanne Chilton-Eddy, along with seniors Tegan Cramer and Jordan Ansara, responded by shutting down the initial possessions of the Grizzlies in the middle and attacking third.
Los Osos had a scoring opportunity in the ninth minute, but senior goalie Sammy Prud’homme charged up from the goal to punch the ball away from box, just before Grizzlies senior Ifeoma Onumonu could get to it and attempt a shot.
The Grizzlies again nearly took the lead in the 23rd minute, but a shot by Grizzlies junior Jazzmin Mancilla sailed just over the crossbar.
One minute later, the Wolverines attempted to clear the ball away from the attacking third, but it deflected off the face of Grizzlies sophomore Sydney Johnson and back into the middle of the box, where Onumonu controlled it and tapped a shot past Prud’homme and into the far post corner to give the Grizzlies a 1-0 lead.
Los Osos continued to possess the ball into the attacking third later in the half, but the Wolverines defense stiffened and repelled their attack.
Strong defensive plays late in the half by Mancilla and Mariah Rojas helped Los Osos take the one-goal advantage into the intermission.
Onumonu added her second goal of the match in the 46th minute, as she got to a loose ball before Prud’homme could secure a save and sent a shot rolling into the back of the net.
In the 55th minute, Los Osos nearly took a 3-0 lead, but Prud’homme came up with an improbable diving save to deny a wide-open shot attempt by Grizzlies sophomore Aubrielle Camacho.
“I was still heated about the second goal they scored, but knew that we could score two goals and wanted to give us a chance,” Prud’homme said. “She (Camacho) was wide open and I just had to hold my ground and make the best play I could.”
One minute later, the Wolverines cut the margin to 2-1, as Miller crossed a pass over to Doyle who rolled a shot into the corner of the goal.
Doyle struck again with the match-equalizer in the 60th minute, as she freed herself in the box and once again rolled a shot past Grizzlies freshman goalie Anne Bailey and into the near corner of the goal.
“It was amazing that both shots I hit on the ground and into the corner,” Doyle said. “The second after I got the first goal, I knew that our team could win this match.”
Six minutes after tying the match, the Wolverines’ rejuvenated offensive attack produced the decisive goal of the contest. Off a pass down field from junior Alexandria Howell, Miller rolled a shot past Bailey and into the net.
“It was a through ball and I was just thinking to myself 'don’t hit it at the goalie,' ” Miller said. “I knew that if I hit it on frame, someone would be there to knock it in. But when I saw it cross the line, I thought it was some sort of miracle.”
Smolinski helped Aliso Niguel clinch the win in the final moments of the match, twice clearing balls out of the attacking third.