Not even a 1-8-1 start to their season, and a stunning end to their 95-game Marine League unbeaten streak earlier in the week was enough to rattle the San Pedro High girls soccer team.
With only four seniors on the roster, the Pirates took their lumps through a grueling nonleague and Pirate Cup Tournament schedule, and they suffered a horrifying 3-2 upset loss to Banning of Wilmington Monday which ended their long streak, putting their long reign as Marine League champions in serious jeopardy when they took on rival Narbonne of Harbor City in a winner-take-all affair for the title.
Narbonne brought everything they had, but as San Pedro has done throughout the entire 2013-2014 season, they battled, they fought, and they persevered.
Oh, and on this day... they conquered.
San Pedro would hold off visiting Narbonne, 2-1 to clinch their ninth consecutive outright Marine League championship in front of a boisterous crowd at Pirate Stadium. Sophomore midfielder Rianni Gonzales' goal off a free kick in the 46th minute was the golden goal for the Pirates (10-9-1 overall, 9-1 league), who got seven saves from sophomore goalie Taylor Miller.
"(Winning league again) is amazing," San Pedro sophomore defender Gabriella Ma said. "I feel like we really grew as a team and that's what we aimed for the whole season."
It didn't take long for San Pedro to get the early jump on the Gauchos (15-9-1, 8-2).
Senior forward Jenny Rivera was tripped up in the Narbonne penalty box in the fourth minute of the game, but once Rivera got back up, she was pushed from behind, causing the referee nearest to the play to call a foul. Rivera, who scored the only goal of San Pedro's earlier 1-0 league win over Narbonne on January 29, would make the Gauchos pay by blasting in a penalty kick for a 1-0 San Pedro lead.
Miller made a great save in midair to thwart Narbonne's first chance to tie off a perfectly-placed corner kick, but in the 19th minute, a defensive breakdown led to the Gauchos' senior midfielder Aracely Zaragosa putting in the equalizer off a cross pass from sophomore forward Zoe Garcia. The 1-1 tie would stay that way at halftime.
"I knew that I couldn't allow the ball to get into the 6-yard box because it would be a good opportunity for them to score," Miller said of her corner-kick save. "The players were marking me tightly so my defense stepped in to leave them offsides and I came out and caught it. I was surprised I was able to catch the kick."
Rivera would once again prove to be a major thorn in Narbonne's side early in the second half, as two Gaucho defenders cornered her and she would draw another foul, setting up Gonzales' magical moment.
Taking the free kick from the 18-yard line in stride, Gonzales launched a shot that somehow ricocheted off the left side of the post and through past the diving effort of Narbonne sophomore goalie Brittany Plunkett, giving San Pedro the 2-1 advantage they somehow held on for despite three Pirates getting yellow cards in what was a physical battle you'd come to expect in a San Pedro-Narbonne rivalry.
Gonzales had extra motivation when she stepped into her magic moment.
"The night before the Narbonne game I stayed up late watching my first nephew being born, Ace Michael Dunphy," Gonzales said. "Ace was born on the 11th and No.11 is my jersey number. That goal was meant to be, so scoring in this game was dedicated to Baby Ace and my team who deserves this Marine League title. I love these girls."
Zaragosa narrowly missed two wide-open shots on breakaways, and Miller came up big with four clutch saves in the second half to somehow seal the deal for San Pedro, who will await their fate for the CIF-Los Angeles City Section Division I playoffs Saturday morning.
San Pedro and Narbonne met for the third time this season, with the Gauchos winning a 1-0 duel in the Pirate Cup Tournament on January 3, and the Pirates prevailing in the league meeting at Narbonne on January 29.