Hart Indians girls’ soccer continued its tear on Tuesday as the team earned its seventh straight shutout victory.
The Indians blanked the hosting Saugus Centurions, 2-0, tightening their grip on the Foothill League, where they have not allowed a goal since early December.
Hart junior Brooklyn Fuller netted the go-ahead goal in the first half. Senior Ariana Salvador controlled a long pass from midfield before finding some space to fire in a cross on the right wing. Fuller was ready for the pass and tapped in the first score of the day in the 12th minute.
“The first time I wasn’t quite there but the second time I wasn’t gonna let that ball go without me getting any contact,” Fuller said on her goal. “I saw Ari wind up and I know when she does that, she’s magical. She finds a way to find any of us. I saw the defender and I stuck my foot in there and it went in, but kudos to Ari for the awesome assist. She set me up, it was just a tap-in.”
Salvador made it 2-0 in the second half when she buried a penalty kick.
The Indians (16-2-2, 8-0-1) threatened to score dozens of times but the Centurion backline clamped up after Fuller’s goal. When anything broke through the line, one of Saugus’ standout goalkeepers were ready.
The penalty kick goal was the only ball that got past Saugus goalkeeper Emily Cespedes. The keeper subbed in for her normal second-half minutes and put on a show with six saves to keep the Centurions (10-6-3, 5-6-2) in striking distance.
Saugus’ starting goalkeeper Natalia Ramirez also played well with three saves in her 40 minutes of action.
The Centurions had a handful of chances in the back-and-forth first half. However, after the second-half whistle, Hart went all in.
The Indians dominated the possession battle, stealing goal kicks, winning 50/50 balls and creating consecutive quality touches.
“Our lead in the first half was just 1-0 so that’s a tough lead to hold because one goal and it’s any man’s game,” Fuller said. “We came out in the second half. We didn’t want to make mistakes and let them capitalize. I think once Ari had that composed finish on the PK, we knew we couldn’t let them score.”
Saugus opened up the game with terrific pressure as Liliana Golphenee fired a cross into the box, where teammate Makenna Blum was ready but fired too high. The Centurions nearly scored again later off a corner kick, as captain Sophia Ruys blasted a low kick that nearly forced an own goal off a Hart defender.
Golphenee nearly ended the Indians’ shutout streak with an unbelievable play at the end of the first half. The junior broke through four Hart defenders and worked her way up to a one-on-one with Indians goalkeeper Sami Robinson. Golphenee blasted a would-be score on goal but Robinson made the day’s only save for Hart.
Hart has now won 11 straight games and cooled off a streaky Saugus team that had just dropped one of its last nine games coming into Tuesday.
The Saugus-Hart rivalry spans throughout numerous sports but over the past few years, the two girls’ soccer teams have had some of the most exciting Foothill League battles. The Indians have only drawn with the Centurions in three straight years, including this season’s earlier matchup, which ended in a scoreless tie.
Hart head coach Brett Croft knew his girls were ready for this one.
“Usually this game is the decider of league,” Croft said. “It’s always a competition with your crosstown rival, Saugus always wants to beat Hart. It’s an interesting game because the emotion is different than any other game. Everybody on the field knows each other … Saugus is good and every year I’ve told Kai (English) every year, they’re getting better and better. Kai is not only a good coach, but a friend of mine and someone that I respect a lot as a coach and a person.”
Croft has made numerous lineup changes this season, as the coach’s roster is yet again bursting at the seams with talent. The Hart coach wants all of his players to just be themselves on the field, rather than play in a foreign system.
“We have a lot of players that can play multiple positions,” Croft said. “So, something I’ve always told players is, ‘Whatever you do well, I’m gonna put that where I need on the field, you just do you. Whatever position you’re in, play your style of soccer because that’s what I need at that moment. Don’t overanalyze where you’re at.’”
The Indians may be hitting their stride at just the right time. Hart will enter the Division 1 playoffs in about two weeks. A league title can be clinched on Thursday but the team’s postseason ticket has already been punched.
“Brett always tells us the thing about Hart soccer is we hit our peak at the right time and I think that’s definitely true this season,” Fuller said. “We’re finally figuring out the pieces to the puzzle. We’ve kind of had to shift around a bit and move people around but I think Brett’s finally found what we’re going to move forward with. I think that’s exciting for us because we’re moving up divisions this year. So there’s going to be some really good competition but with the confidence we have knowing that we’re in our prime when it matters most, I think we’ll be able to make it far.”
Last season’s postseason success added a little pressure to the newer group this season. The program graduated 13 seniors but even with multiple new faces in the lineup, Hart is gearing up for another postseason splash.
“This year has not been an easy year, that’s for sure,” Fuller said. “Coming off of last year, Hart won CIF and state so there was definitely an added pressure from that and we graduated 13 seniors. Coming into this year, it was a pretty new group and we had standards to live up to, but I think we’re just working for each other and especially for our seniors. We have a great group of leadership this year. They just motivate us to do our best and we’ve had lots of injuries and ups and downs, but we’ve been able to persevere and find a way to win every time.”
Hart will finish out the season without junior Adrielle Salvador. Adrielle and Ariana both play for the Philippines Youth National Team. Adrielle will rejoin the U17 Filipino team soon while Ariana will be able to stick around and later rejoin her country when the senior team resumes play.
Both Saugus and Hart return to Foothill League play on Thursday at 3:15 p.m. Hart can lock up the league title if the team can defeat the visiting Castaic Coyotes while Saugus’ playoff ticket will just about be punched with a win over Golden Valley.