The third time was certainly the charm for Millikan girls’ soccer on Wednesday. The Rams had their last two seasons ended by JSerra in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs, but repaid the favor in dominant fashion by beating the Lions 6-0 in the first round at DeHaven Stadium.
“There’s a group that’s been here and played against them all three years, and it’s a ‘Let’s get our respect’ kind of thing,” Millikan coach Tino Nunez said. “If we were going to do it I thought we had the group and we’re peaking at the right time. What better feeling than to do it at our home especially after what happened last year?”
JSerra beat Millikan 4-0 in Long Beach last season. This is the fourth time in six years the Rams and faced the Lions in the postseason.
“We just went out and had fun but it felt good to get revenge,” Millikan senior Alyssa Reyes said. “We’re just working better together now.”
Reyes provided three assists in the game while sophomore Hannah Marshall and senior Courtney Cummings both scored twice. Freshman Audrey Stewart and junior Sierra Sythe also scored for Millikan. Goalkeeper Savanna Alba only needed to make a pair of saves for the clean sheet.
“Everything is clicking,” Reyes said. “Our defense can hold their own, our midfield is connecting better and our forwards connect without having to say stuff sometimes. I think at the beginning of the season we lacked that. We didn’t have as much chemistry but now we do.”
After starting 0-3-2 with the frustrating results against their league rivals, Millikan finished the regular season 9-0, outscoring their opponents 68-2. All of the Rams have credited off-field bonding as a key to the turn around.
“Our communication and connection has never been better,” Cummings said. “All of us as a team are connecting.”
Marshall got the Rams going by scoring both of her goals in the 12th and 15th minutes. The first goal was an impressive bit of dribbling skill as the sophomore beat a defender at the top of the 18-yard box and buried it in the side netting with her left foot.
“I try to stay wide and run the line but I was kind of getting stopped by the left back so I just tried to carry it up the middle,” Marshall said.
“We broke down a couple areas and credit to her being able to cut in,” Nunez said of Marshall. “We talked about her using her left foot. The last couple of games she’s been trying it and both of her goals were with her left foot. It shows the growth on her part and a lot of composure in the final third.”
Reyes fed Marshall in the middle of the box again for her second goal.
“I don’t really think about it because I’m kind of comfortable on both feet but it feels nice to get a left footed goal,” Marshall said. “When we score early it really hypes everybody else up and gets this feeling of, ‘Oh, we got this.’”
Millikan maintained its lead with hard work on and off the ball. It was clear JSerra (4-4-1) was frustrated by the constant pressure and energy from the Rams. The Lions were given five yellow cards including a bench warning for dissent.
The score remained 2-0 until the 46th minute when Cummings scored a beautiful header off a perfect cross from Reyes. Millikan outshot JSerra 15-6.
“We just understand each others style of play and through the season we’ve worked together and we’ve been able to figure out how each other like to play,” Cummings said of her and Reyes.
The Rams scored three times in the last 10 minutes to put the game away, and it was Reyes leading the charge. She created the fourth goal with a slalom run thru the heart of the JSerra defense, and Stewart swooped in to finish the scoring chance.
“She had them on skates,” Nunez said of Reyes. “When she’s on she can be the best player on the field. She was engaged and she wanted it. She’s getting better every game right now.”
Cummings scored her second header goal minutes later on a cross from Sythe, and then Sythe capped the scoring with a simple finish at the near post in the final minute.
“I’m defiantly shocked at 6-0 but I’m not shocked we won,” Cummings said. “I knew we could bring it. We knew we could do so much better than we did last year.”
Millikan (10-3-2) will visit defending CIF-SS Division 1 champion Corona Santiago in the second round on Friday.
“We just have to keep this feeling and keep the energy,” Nunez said of maintaining momentum. “It takes everyone. It’s not just the ones on the field. It’s the group that’s cheering them on. It’s us being their biggest fans. Credit to everyone here rallying behind what Millikan girls’ soccer is doing.”