That's exactly how the Port Of Los Angeles High girls soccer team liked it.
In the 65th minute, senior defender Samantha Walker would get her moment, as she skirted past the Los Angeles CES defense and blasted a perfect shot over LACES junior goalie Jamie Kolbrenner in the left corner of the net to force a 1-1 tie with the Unicorns in the final Valley Invitational Tournament game at Los Angeles Valley College. Walker's goal was the perfect close to a successful run in which the Polar Bears went 3-0-1 in the tournament.
"I was so proud and happy, I almost cried," senior midfielder Tiffany Torres said of Walker's goal. "I knew she would put it in. I love my girl."
POLA (10-2-2 overall) had several opportunities in the first half to break it open as they looked to start fast out of the gate against a school that has eliminated them all four years in either the semifinals of the CIF-Los Angeles City Section Division III playoffs, like last year's 1-0 loss, or in the championship game itself.
Torres missed slightly on a breakaway cross that nearly went in. Walker, freshman forward Briana Mancilla and junior midfielder Maddi Pepper all had point blank chances or a shot that went off the post. Even so, the Unicorns (4-0-3) kept coming at them with shots of their own, also getting three corner kick chances, but were not able to put any of them away.
LACES would eventually draw first blood as senior forward Emma Katz, who has tormented POLA over the years, would go coast-to-coast in eluding five POLA defenders before tapping in a goal past the diving junior goalie Emily Haugen in the 34th minute (one minute left in a 70-minute tournament game) for a 1-0 Unicorns lead.
The second half would see LACES go for the kill as they forced five more corner kick opportunities, and on the fourth one, it appeared that senior midfielder Aunika Ortiz headed it in, but the ball was ruled behind the net by the nearest official, and the Polar Bears caught a break.
However, not allowing LACES to score in any of those eight corner kick attempts was critical for POLA.
"It was very crucial just because of how well-skilled LACES is," said Haugen, who had seven saves. "I'm handling the ball so we needed everyone on their team being watched or blocked during their corner kicks. The defense did an amazing job on that for the most part, and I know I can always count on them to back me up in need."
Mancilla had another breakaway that LACES quickly prevented, and the Unicorns also stopped POLA's lone corner kick opportunity, but Torres would boot a perfect pass to Walker, who in kind would provide the shot the Polar Bears needed for belief in themselves down the road come playoff time.
"This feels pretty good," Walker says. "I'm thankful that my teammates were able to set up the play so perfectly. I could not have done this without them."
POLA proved themselves in a big way during their two-weekend play in the Valley Invitational, posting three shutout victories over Monroe of North Hills, Community Charter of Lakeview Terrace (who was undefeated at the time) and even defending CIF-LACS Division III champion Fulton College Prep of Van Nuys. A very impressive feat considering the Polar Bears only had one substitute available in all four of those games.
For the tournament, POLA played without six players, including two most glaring omissions being sophomore forward Anna Vidovich and the 2014 San Pedro News Pilot Girls Soccer MVP in senior midfielder Isabela Van Antwerp, who are both still sidelined with injuries.
"I was proud of my team for not letting the absence of the other players affect their outlook on the tournament and performance," Torres said.
POLA continues play on Monday in Crosstown League action against host Middle College of Los Angeles.