Tuesday’s girls’ soccer matchup between Saugus and West Ranch had the makings of a big upset, but the Centurions (7-3-1, 6-0-2) were able to erase a 1-0 deficit just before halftime before adding three more to beat the Wildcats (7-5-1, 4-3-1) at home, 4-1.
Saugus sophomore Makenna Blum provided two assists, including on the go-ahead goal for freshman Makea Leonard less than a minute into the second half. She then got her second less than two minutes later on a goal from junior Sophia Ruys.
“I think in the first half, we really struggled with connecting passes,” Blum said. “So, in the second half, we really fixed that, and we started connecting balls, which helped us get those goals.”
The first half saw West Ranch dominating nearly every area of the field, and the Wildcats got their breakthrough 15 minutes into the game on a goal from junior Isabella Truong, assisted by senior Mikayla Toliver. West Ranch head coach Jared White said that Toliver, one of two captains for the Wildcats, has been one of the team’s stars over the past few games.
“I thought Mikayla Toliver has really played well over the past few games,” White said in a text message. “She was a problem for Saugus and has been really finding her groove over the past few weeks.”
The Wildcats would go on to pepper Saugus goalkeeper Natalia Ramirez’s net throughout the first half, but she wouldn’t waver, recording three saves. Saugus head coach Kai English was highly complimentary of Ramirez and senior Emily Cespedes, who came in to relieve Ramirez near the end and made a save to preserve the clean second half.
“She’s been huge all season,” English said. “Against Castaic, when we got that 0-0 tie, she saved us that game, and she definitely kept us in that first half when it could have been a lot different, so she’s been huge. She’s a great keeper, and to be honest, we’ve got three great keepers. Even Emily, at the end, making a great save. Great job by Natalia and the back four in the second half.”
English needed Ramirez to be on top of her game in the first half, as Saugus was pinned back for much of it. White was pleased to see his team execute the game plan he had made.
“I thought we played and executed the game plan perfectly in the first half,” White said. “We had to make a few last-minute changes due to some unexpected roster issues, but the girls answered the challenge with a great first half.
“I told the girls that’s two games in a row where the opposing coach has left his team at halftime incredibly upset, and that’s a credit to their effort and execution.”
The Centurions managed to get one back just before the half ended on a goal from sophomore Celeste Ramirez thanks to a great pass from junior Anessa Bolanos to make it 1-1, and they were able to play with much more freedom in the second half. Leonard got her ninth goal of the season, Ruys picked up two goals and Bolanos got her second assist to match Blum’s total.
“It was definitely a big component for us,” Blum said of the equalizer, “and I think it definitely got us motivated and still in the game.”
White noted that with his team all but out of the picture in terms of the Foothill League title race, he was more focused on ensuring that his team would stay healthy as the Wildcats look to stay in third place and the final automatic playoff spot.
“Saugus came out angry knowing they needed a win to try and stay with Hart, and they were able to get two quick goals,” White said. “For us, we are fighting for third, so we knew this game really didn’t mean too much. We wanted to keep everyone healthy and with our roster super thin, it was time to throttle back and let the subs get minutes.”
The Centurions needed the win to keep pace with Hart (7-3-3, 6-0-1), the only other unbeaten team in the Foothill League. The two teams finished in a 1-1 draw earlier in the season, and the winner of Thursday’s matchup, should there be one, very well could end up winning the league.
“We’ll be ready. They’ll be ready,” English said. “I’m sure after, they’re probably a little unexpected that we got the tie last time. And that’s what you want. You know, as a coach, as players, there’s nothing better than a first-second-place battle for the league. So, I’m excited, I’m sure the girls will be excited, and we just got to go out there and work hard because Hart has a great team.”
English’s team has been improving since that game, he said. Where before Leonard was the main source of goals, the Centurions now have a more balanced attack, as seen with Tuesday’s second-half effort.
“Now, we’re spreading it around,” English said. “Makenna is getting involved, Sophia is getting involved and Anessa. So that’s big and that’s really important, because when you have one player scoring all the goals, the other team can focus on them. So, it’s important that we spread it around.”
Saugus and Hart kick off at 3:15 p.m. on Thursday at Hart High School.
West Ranch continues Foothill League action as well with an away game at Valencia on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. The two teams played to a 2-2 draw earlier in the season.
“Valencia is the game we have had circled as incredibly important to remain where we need to grab an automatic playoff spot,” White said. “We didn’t play well last time and are looking to secure a big three points.”