Morales, defense lead Sunny Hills to Aliso Cup finals
ALISO VIEJO - The set piece execution of junior Maribell Morales and a strong defensive effort put the Sunny Hills Lancers in a position to compete for one of the county’s top preseason titles.
Morales scored the lone goal of the match in the first half, as the Lancers edged the Yorba Linda Mustangs 1-0 in the semifinals of the Aliso Cup Saturday at Aliso Niguel High.
“We just have to believe that we can beat some of the top schools and believe that we’re on that top level,” Morales said. “If we execute our game plan and play our best, we feel we can beat anyone.”
Sunny Hills (4-1-1) knocked off No. 5 Edison, 1-0, in the quarterfinals earlier in the day and will square off against top-ranked Aliso Niguel in the tournament championship on Monday.
“We have a strong defense that can weather storms, and we know that once we get into our attacking half, we can win some set pieces and break momentum,” Lancers coach Jeff Gordon said. “In the second half, we kept our defensive shape and limited their chances.”
The Mustangs pressured the Lancers attacking third early in the match, and though they forced two corner kick scoring chances in the first six minutes, they were unable to convert.
The biggest play of the match came in the 11th minute. The Lancers were awarded an indirect free kick because they had possession prior to a stoppage of play because of an injury. Morales hit a high floater from just outside of 40 yards toward the goal that appeared to make contact with the crossbar and was ruled to have hit the shoulder of Mustangs senior goalie Kristen Kleinow before bouncing over the goal line to give Sunny Hills a 1-0 lead.
“That type of kick is something that I’ve developed and practiced on,” Morales said. “I’ve always had a strong kick and try to use that to my advantage.”
The Lancers defense began to tighten up late in the first half. With junior Bethany Hanson and senior Kendra Serrano leading the way, Sunny Hills prevented Yorba Linda from extended possessions deep in the attacking third.
Sunny Hills produced three shots in the first six minutes of the second half and had control of possession, but Kleinow produced five of her eight saves in the second half to keep the Mustangs within a goal.
"We didn’t get the result we wanted in this match, but I think we proved a lot to ourselves and came out solid,” Kleinow said.
Yorba Linda’s best scoring opportunity came in the 63rd minute. Junior Kayley French managed to get off an open shot in front of the goal, but the ball sailed over the crossbar.
Big defensive clears by senior Kirsten Martin and Serrano helped the Lancers close out the victory.
“We played well at times and we’re still molding and forming our team,” Mustangs coach Greg Aviles said. “We feel that we have a good group and we want to challenge them against the best teams.”