In one of the most agonizing nail-biters in recent sports history, the Palisades High girls soccer team had to play 80 minutes of regulation, 20 minutes of overtime, an additional 10 minutes of golden goal overtime and then penalty kicks, before defeating San Pedro on Tuesday.
The No. 2-ranked Dolphins now advance to the City Section Division 1 finals against perennial rival and top-seeded Granada Hills on Saturday at Valley College.
PaliHi scored its first and only goal (until the penalty kicks) in the 25th minute when senior midfielder Ariella McNulty nailed a header on a corner kick.
The Dolphins dominated the first half with quick, accurate passing, and most of the play was on their offensive side of the field. They led at halftime, 1-0, and continued to dominate the game with numerous shots on goal. However, in a rare breakaway, a San Pedro player was tripped in the box, which resulted in a penalty kick and a goal to even the score.
In the 72nd minute of regular play, Pali goalie Giorgia Sterza, who had not seen a lot of action in the game, dived for a ball. While on the ground she was kicked in the face. The Pirate received a yellow card and Sterza was rushed to the hospital. The backup goalie, senior Kate Rautbort, went into the game
The 30 minutes of overtime were a repeat of the regular game, with Pali having numerous chances to score, but that “invisible” sheathing that seems to go up in some games, stopped any additional goals.
At the end of time, Palisades goalie Rautbort needed help off the field and ice was immediately applied to her knee, which meant she wasn’t available to defend against penalty kicks.
Time for Ava Kerkorian to step up as the game’s heroine.
“Ava, our captain and, without doubt, one of the best players we’ve had at Pali, played four positions in this game,” Coach Christian Chambers told Circling the News. “She started as a defensive midfielder, played a little attacking midfielder and center back, and then put on the goalie gloves to drag us into the final. That’s what she does–she’s a leader in every way.”
San Pedro had the first penalty kick. Kerkorian stood solid in goal and when the shot came, threw herself at the ball, which rebounded back to the field.
This set the tone. Kerkorian then shot Pali’s first penalty kick and made it. Back in the net, she blocked another shot, and a third San Pedro attempt went wide. Pali won the shootout 3-1.
Chambers said that goalie Sterza will be back on the field for the final. “Fortunately, no concussion and nothing broken, just heavy swelling, so she should be good for the Final.”
“Although we dominated play,” Chambers said, “I thought that was our worst performance of the season. The girls were very nervous, and it showed. Having said that, we still created four or five really good chances to kill the game off.”
The Dolphins dominated league play (12-0) and were 17-1 overall, losing only to Santa Monica in early January. Every year they are ranked high in the City playoffs and aim to make the finals, but nerves and other distractions often set in.
“It’s happened in all three of the semifinals I’ve coached in the past six seasons,” Chambers said, “but I know they’ll be fine for the final now that they’ve got it out of their system.”
Saturday’s final pits two teams with nearly identical season records. “Granada Hills is very good and has a couple of truly outstanding players,” Chambers said, “so it’s going to be tough. But if we play our game and keep focused, we definitely have a chance of causing an upset.”
He continued, “Personally, I’m looking forward to it as this group has been fantastic all year both on and off the field and it’s fitting that our seniors get to finish their high school soccer careers playing in the final.”
Actually, win or lose, Palisades will advance to the regional CIF playoffs.