After a year’s absence, high school girls’ soccer returned to Long Beach with a bang on Thursday afternoon as Long Beach Poly hosted two-time defending Moore League champion Millikan. The Jackrabbits led 2-0 with just a few minutes left in the game but Rams junior Natalie Paulson struck twice at the death to pull Millikan even in a thrilling 2-2 draw.
“We got a result, hopefully we build off that,” said Millikan coach Tino Nunez. “We have to know that we have to get better and that these teams are coming out with everything to beat us. We’re in that position with our target on our back. And how do we respond to that?”
The end of the game was a wild one, with the Rams trailing 2-0 in the 79th minute. Nunez had pushed his defense up looking for a magic moment, and he got it when the ball fell to the feet of junior Natalie Paulson, who started the game at center back. Paulson struck it well, but Poly keeper Kira Ybarra was able to deflect it up. The ball bounced under the crossbeam and down in a classic officials’ dilemma. After play continued for a moment the assistant referee signaled it was a goal.
“Obviously I don’t have the view he did, and it was a great save to begin with, but it hit off the bar and crossed the line,” said Nunez. “After that we woke up and seemed interested finally.”
“It might have been in off the goal line technology,” cracked Poly coach Anthony Perez. “Could it possibly be actually in? I don’t know from my angle.”
MInutes later, the Rams struck again on a long ball into the box that Paulson charged. She and Ybarra had a violent collision, but Paulson was able to nudge the ball past her into the net to equalize the game just seconds before the official blew full time.
Perez thought the second goal should have been whistled offsides, but credited the Rams for continuing to push and said his team needs to improve its late-game defense.
“At the end of the day that stuff can only happen through small breakdowns within us,” he said. “We have to tighten up a few things.”
Neither team had seen much action, with Millikan falling 1-0 to La Mirada earlier in the week and Poly defeating Cabrillo. Both coaches were thrilled to be back on the field with their teams and said they expected quick improvement as the teams adjusted to playing with each other.
The Jackrabbits built their 2-0 lead off of a nice shot from sophomore Kyla Gomez (55th minute) and then a penalty kick made by Pepperdine signee Kelsey Adams, after Olivia D’Anna drew a foul in the box.
“It was a weird game and it’s going to be a different kind of a season,” said Nunez.
Millikan (0-1-1, 0-0-1) will face Wilson next Thursday while Poly (1-0-1, 1-0-1) will host Lakewood.