Indians top West Hills, 2-0; will play San Marcos on Saturday at home
Hart girls’ soccer isn’t playing at full strength.
The Indians are missing multiple starters due to various reasons, but you wouldn’t know it by watching them play.
“I just think it shows how special a group this is that you could be missing four starters and you can still have a performance like that,” Hart head coach Brett Croft said.
The “performance” that Croft mentioned was what Hart (18-2-5) put on at home on Thursday, shutting out the West Hills Wolf Pack (19-10-1), 2-0, to advance to the CIF Division 2 Southern California Regional final.
Hart sophomore Gianna Costello scored the two goals to give the Indians their 10th straight win and keep them unbeaten in their last 20 games. She also scored a goal in Hart’s CIF first-round win over El Camino on Tuesday.
Hart senior Briley Phelps, the team’s leading goal-scorer on the year, had nothing but praise for Costello. Phelps believes that Costello is on her way to becoming the future star of the Indians.
“She has an incredible work rate and she is all in for the team,” Phelps said. “And you can tell by the way she plays. She’s upcoming, she’s going to be superstar.”
Hart will now play the San Marcos Knights (15-11-3) on Saturday at home in the CIF Southern California Regional final. The Knights edged Harvard-Westlake on Thursday, 2-0.
Costello’s first goal came on Thursday just two minutes into the contest. The Wolf Pack was unable to clear a cross, and after a few bounces in the box, Costello was able to lunge forward for the finish.
Hart kept peppering the West Hills goal throughout the first half. The ball rarely traveled into the other half of the field, and the Indians were playing confidence after the early lead.
“That’s kind of been the story of our season,” Croft said. “We get on teams early and quick, before they know it, we tend to finish one, which is huge. It changes kind of the whole complexity of the game.”
West Hills had one golden chance to equalize midway through the first half on a free kick just outside of the 18-yard box. Croft, sensing the danger, directed Phelps to cover the far post, and the senior captain was in perfect position to head the ball away.
Phelps was happy to do the dirty work to keep her team in the lead and push the momentum back in the Indians’ favor.
“I just need to contribute my part to the team, and everyone contributes their own part and I need to lead by example,” Phelps said. “So, if I’m working hard, then others are going to work hard too, and I feel like coming up with that save brought some energy.”
Hart’s second goal was similar to the first. This time, Costello was in perfect position at the back post to latch on to a shot off the crossbar from senior Charlotte Curtis to put the Indians up 2-0 with eight minutes to play in the first half.
“There’s a lot to be said about true finishers,” Croft said. “They’re always ready to score, and not just when they have the ball.”
The second half for Hart was all about minimizing risk. The Indians continued to hunt for a possible third goal, but Croft made sure that his players knew to track back and not leave space for West Hills to run in to.
Phelps, positioned as one of the forwards when Hart was in possession, spent much of her time in the second half sweeping up in the midfield areas before launching a counter attack.
“It’s just all about our work rate,” Phelps said. “We work hard the whole time, even when the game ebbs and flows. Sometimes we’re going our way and getting chances, and when we’re not, we just got to defend and work and cover each other.”
The Indians are one step away from adding another trophy to what has been an impressive season. Having already earned the title of CIF Southern Section Division 2 champions, a win on Saturday would also allow them to be called the Division 2 champions of Southern California.
To get there, though, they’ll have to beat a San Marcos team that went all the way to the CIF San Diego Section Open Division semifinals before getting to the state tournament.
“It’s just another game,” Phelps said. “We need to play our game and come out as who we are and dominate. We just need a shot as ourselves and then we’ll take care of it.”