Hart Indians girls’ soccer coach Brett Croft was a little worried about his team heading into its playoff matchup with the Alta Loma Braves on Saturday.
The Indians’ impressive schedule notched the team a bye, marking the team’s first Division 1 playoff game in four years as a second-round matchup with the Braves at College of the Canyons.
The team’s time off mixed with Alta Loma already hitting its playoff stride could’ve been a factor.
But not for this Hart team, which has now won 15 straight games.
Hart won the match, 2-0, behind another stellar performance of strong defense, tons of possession and crafty play on the offensive side.
After a tentative start, the Indians (20-2-2) broke through for their first goal of the postseason in the second half as one senior captain found another. Midfielder Ariana Salvador pushed up on the right wing, where she found space to fire a cross into the box. Senior Natalie Mejia tracked the ball, which took a huge bounce, and headered in the first strike against Alta Loma (17-2-2).
Hart iced it about 20 minutes later, as Salvador again made some magic happen up on the wing. The Filipino National teamer fired another cross into the box and this time connected with her younger sister, Adrielle Salvador.
Adrielle, a member of the Filipino Youth National team, was jet lagged and exhausted to start the game. The junior had just spent hours flying home for the playoff match after spending a few weeks with the Filipino team in Spain. The junior flew in on a long pair of flights from Europe, as she also had a layover in the Netherlands.
Hart coach Brett Croft knew his star was tired but was sure she could impact the game with her sister.
“You could tell (Adrielle) was tired, but once the adrenaline kicked in, she was there,” Croft said in a phone interview. “She’s what makes us stick. She’s the glue. It was so nice to have her and Ari connect. It’s just such a cool moment for us all to witness.”
The goals came later in the game possibly due to some sluggishness but once the first goal was netted, it was all Hart.
“There are games where it does take us a while to score, but we just keep possessing and once we get that first goal, we really can see the girls kind of settle and calm down and we really start to go. So, we really started to dominate the game.”
Hart was yet again rock solid on defense, with little to no quality chances allowed for the Braves. A handful of balls got by the Indian backline but senior goalkeeper Sami Robinson was ready every time for a stop or routine save.
Braves striker Kendall Campbell didn’t get as many chances as she usually does but still threatened to score against the Indians. Alta Loma freshman Rachyl Barry found Cambell, a Washington State commit, on a cross that nearly got by the Hart backline but the defense came up with the clutch stop.
Hart also got solid play from unsung heroes Gianna Costello and Ayla Noble. Costello was glued to Barry’s hip for all 80 minutes on defense, while Noble played four different positions in the game and helped set up both scoring plays.
The victory marked Hart’s first Division 1 playoff win in six seasons and extended its current postseason win streak to nine games after last year’s CIF and Regional championships.
“I think that a lot of this season, no matter how it worked for us in league and however it goes for us in CIF, it’s always going to be compared to last season,” Croft said. “I preached to the girls that it’s a new year, this is your team and this is your time to take full advantage of these experiences and compete at the Division 1 level. I think after tonight, they kind of got a taste of what Division 1 is.”
Hart will now enter the CIF quarterfinals and remains home to host the Roosevelt Mustangs (20-4-1). The Mustangs enter the quarterfinals on a five-game win streak and are led by sophomore Ireland Churchill, who has totaled 22 goals and 13 assists this season.
The Indians take on the Mustangs on Wednesday with a location and time yet to be determined.
“They’re excited,” Croft said. “They know every time we play, it’s going to be legit and anything can happen on any day. We’re definitely excited to get back out there on Wednesday and compete.”