There was no downplaying the importance of the Sequoia-Mills girls' soccer match Tuesday afternoon in Millbrae.
Nathan Mollat/daily Journal
Sequoia's Jackie Hutchison celebrates her goal during the Cherokees' 2-0 win over Mills in an Ocean Division showdown Tuesday.
Sequoia entered the game as the Peninsula Athletic League's Ocean Division leader, notching an unblemished mark in the first half of league play. A win by the Cherokees would all but cement a division title and an automatic Central Coast Section berth.
Mills, on the other hand, stood in second place, two games behind the Cherokees. The Vikings needed a victory Tuesday if they had any shot at winning the division crown.
"We do talk about that. I don't hold back about talking about where we're at (in the standings),” said Sequoia coach Melissa Schmidt.
The Cherokees proved they are the team to beat as they scored two second-half goals to beat Mills 2-0 at take a commanding lead in the Ocean Division standings.
"They (the Vikings) gave us a really good game. Mills always shows up big,” Schmidt said. "They have really good, quick counters, but we did a good job controlling the game.”
Sequoia (8-0 PAL Ocean, 9-3-2 overall) controlled most of the possession and attack in the first half, but had a hard time pulling the trigger. Credit some of that to the Mills defense, which limited the Cherokees to just a pair of shots on net, neither of which was very dangerous.
"We kind of always have that problem, trying to get that perfect shot,” Schmidt said.
Mills (5-3, 7-3-1) did not mount much offense in the opening 40 minutes either, but it seemed when the Vikings did mount an attack, it was a bit more threatening.
Sequoia's play in the first half, however, made it clear it was only a matter of time before the Cherokees put something together offensively. They didn't wait too long as just 10 minutes into the second half they found the back of the net. Phoebe Hopp received a pass about 30 yards from the Mills net. She turned and sent a delicate through ball to the top of the penalty box. Jackie Hutchinson raced in and, with a defender on her shoulder, corralled the ball, took a touch and blasted a shot from 16 yards out that found the roof of the net for a 1-0 Sequoia lead.
That goal appeared to jump-start the Vikings, who realized they needed to get some offense going to have any chance at a win. About midway through the second half, Mills had its best opportunity to score. Olivia Mullins sent a diagonal ball toward the left corner where Ciara Donlon chased it down and sent a shot on frame. It was over the goalkeeper's head and appeared to be the tying goal, but it skimmed off the crossbar and back into the field of play, where it was cleared out by the Sequoia defense for a Mills corner kick, which amounted to nothing.
Moments later, the Cherokees all but put the game away. When a Mills defender failed to clear a ball away deep in her own territory, Emma Martino ran by her, took the ball in stride and broke in on the Mills goal. She carried it deep into the penalty box before flipping a shot with the outside of her right foot past the goalkeeper and into the far right corner of the net for the final score of the game.
"I think we did a better job in the second half of just getting shots off,” Schmidt said.
Mills had one more opportunity to make the Cherokees nervous, but Sequoia goalkeeper Sophia Perez made the save of the day when she dove to her left to push aside a Mullins shot from the top of the box.
"Their 'keeper had a fantastic save,” said Mills coach Caroline Tiziani. "Sequoia was the better team today. We made a couple of mistakes.”
While Sequoia is in the driver's seat for the Ocean Division title, the Cherokees will not rest or take anyone for granted.
"We know we have a target on our back,” Schmidt said. "There are good teams in this league. Just because we beat [a team] once doesn't mean we'll beat them again.”