In the last three years, the Alhambra High School girls soccer team has always limped into the playoffs with late league losses. This year they’ll be buoyed by the fact they earned a result in their final game.
Everything went against them in their 0-0 draw with Las Lomas on Thursday night, but they still did enough to cost Las Lomas the Diablo Foothill Athletic League title. A sending off, a key injury against the top goal scorers in the league, wasn’t enough to deter the Bulldogs.
“It’s always difficult to play with a player down, but I think the on-the-field injury really motivated the players, and they really made up for the missing player,” coach Ed Marinelli said.
Since their meteoric ascension to the top of the DFAL, Las Lomas has cooled off as of late.
The Bulldogs opened their final league game of the season with a solid 20 minutes of smart soccer. They were the aggressors, but couldn’t break through with a goal.
Las Lomas decided to allow Alhambra to make an early mistake and try and hit them on the counter, knowing the Bulldogs needed a result.
Their tactics nearly worked twice, but Alhambra junior goalkeeper Nicki Rucki produced two brilliant saves. The Bulldogs were then let off the hook when Las Lomas junior Kelsi Schacht improvised to get a shot on goal from a tough angle.
Schacht’s shot beat Rucki but struck the post in the 24th minute, and Alhambra was once again let off the hook.
The Bulldogs didn’t have any solid chances on goal in the first half, but there were some bright moments. Kayla Porche played a brilliant outlet ball to spark a counter attack to sophomore Carly Agostino.
The sophomore who was withdrawn back into the midfield then played Rachel George on the flank, but the Lady Dogs couldn’t find the final ball into the box.
Only a shot from Agostino 30 yards out tested the Knights’ keeper.
The referee allowed a lot to slide by in Thursday night’s cagey affair, but in the 44th minute he was forced to produce a red card in a difficult instance.
Sophomore Kelsey Thompson slotted in Catie Logan, who took a touch around Rucki, but the two collided hard just outside the 18-yard box.
Rucki was down for about five minutes before she was carried off the field with a serious looking injury. The referee didn’t show Rucki the red card on the field but communicated to the coaches that he needed to send her off.
Not able to field their backup keeper who payed in the junior varsity game, Marinelli subbed on senior Cella Lumb to play keeper.
Lumb was tested instantly, and reacted by making a double save to keep Las Lomas out.
Repeatedly for the final 40 minutes, the Knights played long balls into the box hoping to beat the inexperienced keeper. But Lumb continued to stand her ground, making two more saves to preserve the result.
In the 70th minute, Alhambra nearly snatched all three points from Las Lomas.
Porche, who had been isolated since the sending off, was the lone forward playing on the Las Lomas side of midfield. She produced a shot on an over the top ball that hit the side netting, but from the sidelines looked as if she had scored.
“You shouldn’t really even get an opportunity against the number one team, with a player down for 40 minutes,” Marinelli said. “When I saw that, I thought we were in, we were golden.”
Las Lomas had been let off, but had four corners in the final 10 minutes to try and get the win.
Logan fired a shot on goal from the Knights, but from 35 yards out Lumb was equal to it.
As of Tribune deadline, Rucki’s status is still up in the air, however one thing is for sure, she will not be available for Wednesday’s North Coast Section playoff game due to the red card.
Claire Jensen, a sophomore who started the year on JV, has been training with the varsity for weeks now, and is ready to step up and fill in for Rucki, but Marinelli said he would still like to weigh his options for another week before making a decision.
The NCS seeding meeting will take place on Sunday, Feb. 14, and will decide who the Bulldogs will play in the first round of the playoffs. The opponent could factor into Marinelli’s decision on whether he feels Jensen is ready, or whether he will search elsewhere.
“She is familiar with all the players and trains hard, so she could possibly be ready to go,” Marinelli said of the sophomore keeper.