The Moore League girls’ soccer clash between Long Beach Poly and Wilson on Thursday night was a must win for the Jackrabbits, and they played like it after falling behind early. The visitors scored twice in the second half to beat Wilson 2-1 and get back in the league title hunt.
Wilson (7-6-3, 5-1-0) fell out of first place with the loss as Millikan took over the top spot with games in hand. Poly (6-5-1, 3-2-0) and Wilson still have their second round games against Millikan yet to play.
“This is humongous,” Poly coach Anthony Perez said of the win. “It sets us in motion to at least prevent us from being where we don’t want to be. We’re in the race now. I’m thinking this is going to be some motivation for us going into the Millikan game next week.”
Wilson junior Reese Doherty gave her team the lead in the ninth minute against the run of play. Poly was still chasing the game in the 53rd minute when Poly senior Isabella Yakel netted an unlikely equalizer. The Jackrabbits kept the pressure on and junior Misha Hebert scored the game-winner in the 64th minute. Poly outshot Wilson 11-2 in the game.
“We’re so excited to get this win and keep pushing forward,” Poly defender Rachel Perry said. “We’ve been working hard in practice.”
Wilson beat Poly on the road to kick off the league season, but a shift in formation from the Jackrabbits put more bodies in the midfield and gave the visitors much needed space to grab all of the positive momentum in the rematch.
“They were controlling the midfield and that hurts because that’s where I want Wilson to be strong,” Wilson first-year coach Brian Irvin said. “I thought we could stick with what we had. We were getting the wide play that I wanted and got some dangerous chances. That first goal was exactly what I was looking for. But they kept the pressure on, and it’s not that we wilted, they just got a couple chances and put them away.”
Poly got off three shots before Wilson got its first, but it ended up in the back of the net. Bruins freshman Leah Garcia and senior Tatiana Cortes played a give-and-go on the far sideline in the ninth minute, and Garcia sent a cross to the back post where Doherty was waiting to score it with two quick touches.
Despite dominating the proceedings, Poly went to halftime trailing and feeling more desperate. Perez shifted his 3-5-2 formation to a 3-4-3 and those extra bodies up top gave his team the boost it needed.
“We were doing the right stuff, we just weren’t composed in that last third,” Perez said of the first half. “In the second half we got a little more confident. I think that was the key. Our confidence level went up despite being down. That’s what I love about this group, we go down but we’re hungry and we don’t let up. We always come back fighting.”
Yakel was all over the place making plays for Poly, and took all of the close set pieces. She just missed the goal on two free kicks just outside the 18-yard box in the second half, and then lined up a corner kick in the 53rd minute. She played it short to junior Camila Montes, who played it back to Yakel, and she bent it in with a fantastic lofted shot.
“At halftime we were discussing how we should check in to get the ball short and play back to me,” Yakel said. “I was initially going to cross it but I saw the gap between the crossbar and the keeper so I just curved it in.”
“That kid is a warrior,” Perez said of Yakel. “She’s willing to come out here and do the work. Her work ethic is amazing and she knows what to do in the right moments.”
The Poly defense continued to push the Wilson attack wide away from the 18-yard box, and the Bruins were held without a shot on goal in the second half.
The game-winning run of play in the 64th minute was keyed by some physical play on the outside by Perry. She found some space to send in a cross, and a header by the Wilson back line fell to the feet of Hebert who sent it home off the volley with the outside of her right foot.
“I wanted it so bad,” Hebert said. “My past two Wilson games I’ve had really close shots (miss) so it’s really nice putting one in the back of the net.”
The visiting crowd and Poly’s bench was extra loud throughout the game and all of the Jackrabbits interviewed post game said they could feel that energy on the field.
“Everyone supports each other,” Yakel said of her team. “It’s such a good environment to push the players on the field to keep going and I think that’s why we won with two goals in the second half.”
“It’s a natural thing that comes but I’m a high energy kind of guy so I like that energy,” Perez said. “I feed off of it too as a coach, so I try to get my players to feed off that energy. We just have a great support system at Poly. “
Poly hosts Millikan next Thursday, and Wilson hosts Millikan a week later on Jan. 27.