Two late goals from striker Alexis Nguyen powered the Hart Indians girls’ soccer team to victory on Friday and punched the team’s ticket to the CIF Division 2 Finals.
Hart knocked out the hosting Westlake Warriors for the second consecutive year in the postseason, with Friday’s matchup ending 3-0 in favor of the Indians.
Nguyen poked a loose ball into open space past several Warrior defenders and fired in her first strike of the day late in the game.
Less than five minutes later, Nguyen continued to create problems in the penalty area and earned a penalty kick after getting laid out by a Warriors defender. The striker wasn’t fazed and knocked in the third goal of the game to send her team to the CIF championship game.
The score was tied at 0-0 until just before the halftime whistle with both teams playing a little tight and conservatively with a championship berth on the line. Sophomore Gianna Costello nearly netted the go-ahead goal off a corner kick but Westlake saved the initial attack with a deflection. The ball bounced nearly out of reach from senior Briley Phelps, but the forward got just enough touch on it to drill the back right corner of the net.
Westlake had some strong outside speed and talented players at the top of its formation. Costello, a natural forward, has never played defense in her life but stepped up and defended the wings well.
The Warriors threw everything they had at Hart in the final 10 minutes. The Indians went into a more defensive formation, moving Phelps to center back as a fifth defender. The move was critical in nearly eliminating any play in front Hart goalkeeper Laura Brennan. The Hart keeper was on her A-game, racking up several saves on her way to the team’s 14th clean sheet this season.
Indians head coach Brett Croft was pleased with his team’s ability to hold off the Warriors and earn a shot at the CIF crown.
“In the second half, we definitely played a lot better,” Croft said. “Westlake is a hit-and-run kind of team, and we’re a more possession-minded team. They have some very fast girls, so they’ll kick and run, and it works every now and then.”
Hart’s defense stood tall yet again but the trio of Phelps, Nguyen and midfielder Ariana Salvador has force-fed goals all season.
“Lexi, Ari and Briley, I call them the triangle of death,” Croft said. “If you can get those three in a triangle, you’re in trouble.”
The three Indians have been relentless but selfless on the attack all season. As a group, the three have combined for 45 goals and 40 assists this year.
Hart will need its best game from its trio and defense in at least one more game, as the Indians will face Harvard-Westlake for the CIF title.
The Indians will move on to the state tournament either way but have been on a tear in the CIF Division 2 bracket. Hart was knocked out last year in the CIF semifinals and has had this run on its mind since.
“We’ve been hyper-focused on CIF all year,” Croft said. “Not to discredit our league run and the quality of opponents but we really wanted to return to where we were last year, and we’ve taken that a step forward…We’re peaking at the right time, we just gotta keep it rolling.”
Hart will play the Wolverines on either Friday or Saturday with a time and place yet to be confirmed.