Camryn Cruz changed the Moore League girls’ soccer season with one kick of the ball on Thursday night.
With the game tied in the 56th minute, it looked like Millikan was creating more than enough chances to score and clinch its fourth consecutive league title. Instead, Cruz broke free against the run of play and ran through a defender at the top of the 18-yard box to find space and fire a cracking shot into the far side netting for the game-winning goal.
“First off, I wanted to take a shot right away because I’ve been learning to take shots off the first touch,” Cruz said of the goal scoring play. “But I missed the first (attempt earlier in the game) and I knew I had to get it back for my team. This was the biggest game. I just took a touch wide and shot it and hoped it went in, and it did. I wasn’t surprised, but it was a lucky one for sure.”
The 2-1 Wilson victory means the rematch at Millikan on Wednesday at 6 p.m. will be played with the league title hanging in the balance. The Bruins (8-1-0) are now in first place and the Rams (6-1-1) are behind them with a game in hand.
“That’s a very hard-fought win against one of the top teams in the area,” Wilson coach Brian Irvin said. “(Olivia Herrera) is in goal and our defense is pretty strong so we’re going to stay in every game… And then Camryn, what a huge goal… That was a gritty performance.”
Wilson also lost star forward Reece Doherty in the 47th minute when she was given her second yellow card and resulting red card. However, the Bruins changed their formation to flood the middle of the field and fight for counter attacks. That’s exactly what led to Cruz’s goal.
“We were a little discouraged but I knew the team would pull it together,” Cruz said. “We work as a team, and one player could change it, but I feel like this was a different scenario.”
Millikan outshot Wilson 12-8 in the game, and 7-2 in the second half after the two teams went to halftime even 1-1.
“It’s the frustration of creating those chances and not putting them away and then allowing a team to get a great hit,” Millikan coach Tino Nunez said. “Credit to (Cruz) for hitting that. But we’re giving these teams the chance to have that one moment and then they’re back in the game.”
Millikan built pressure early with some dangerous set pieces, and took the lead in the eighth minute on a scramble in the box that resulted from a free kick. The ball took a big bounce after a shot was deflected, but sophomore Audrey Stewart flew in and sent it home with her knee.
Wilson responded with better play on the flanks that heavily featured Doherty, and the Bruins earned their first corner kick in the 31st minute after Doherty found Aoife Powell in the box for a shot that was deflected wide. Doherty stepped over the resulting corner kick and bent into goal off the far post.
The second half started slow, but when Doherty picked up her second yellow card, Millikan got on the front foot and had a string of chances from Stewart, Sierra Sythe, Hannah Davy and Hannah Marshall.
The game-winning play started as a long ball into the Millikan end, and Cruz pounced on a miss-cleared deflection. She then ran over a defender and maintained control of the ball long enough to find space and beat the keeper into the far side netting.
“She’s our lead point getter, and she does that in training, so she has that aspect to her game,” Irvin said. “And then I ask her to come back and be defensive to see out the game and she can do that too. She’s very versatile.”
Wilson packed the box with numbers from the last half hour while Millikan continued to put pressure on Bruins goalkeeper Olivia Herrera. She finished with six saves.
“We had to play more defensive and I knew I had to be fierce and come off my line to make sure there’s no breakaways,” Herrera said. “I think I’m playing my best soccer right now because of the people around me. I came into the game super nervous. But once we hit warm up everyone was super encouraging and hyped so I give all my credit to them for always being supportive.”
Sythe was still able to create two more great equalizing chances with sharp crosses into the box, but Herrera was there to stop the redirected shots from Stewart and Davy.
Millikan is ranked No. 4 in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 poll this week, and Nunez said his team is still confident going into the final league games despite being frustrated.
“The message is that life gives you second chances,” Nunez said. “Now we have a chance at home to win the league. It’s a must win game for us and we have to come out and be ready.”