April 28, 2014 Updated: April 29, 2014 at 7:58 am
Kylie Cleary was running by herself with a clear view of the goal, and she knew she wouldn't be lonely for long.
So she started shouting.
"Emily, Emily, ball, ball!"
She was shouting at her St. Mary's teammate Emily Loof, who was surrounded by a swarm of Fountain Valley defenders. This swarming is understandable. Loof has scored 90 career goals for the Pirates.
Loof heard the familiar voice in the near distance and directed an expertly placed pass to Cleary's left foot.
Boom. Cleary launched a rocket into the right corner, ending a sensational high school soccer game.
"I knew she was wide open," Loof said. "It was the easiest decision in the world."
St. Mary's (12-1) defeated Fountain Valley 3-2 in overtime to win its seventh straight 3A Region I title. This drama arrived after the Pirates had outscored opponents 91-6 heading into the deciding game.
"Adversity is a good thing," St. Mary's coach Gregg Braha told his players immediately after the game.
He's right. The Pirates needed a test as they prepare for the state playoffs.
And Fountain Valley's Danes certainly delivered that test on their home field.
Players had to contend with a vigorous, icy north wind, which blew tumbleweeds on the field and made scoring on the north goal about as likely as sneaking a shot past German legend Oliver Kahn in his prime. Fountain Valley coach Byron Dacy defended the south goal during the first half and hoped his team would remain within sight of the Pirates.
The Danes managed to keep close, surrendering only a left-footed goal by Loof. With the winds at their back in the second half, the Danes nearly delivered a minor upset. Claire Hamilton scored on a courageous header to tie the score, and McKenna Monk walloped a 30-yard free kick to the back of the net for the lead. Hamilton and Monk combined have 41 goals this season.
This left the Pirates with a formidable task. They trailed 2-1 heading into the final minutes, and they were dribbling into that vicious north wind.
Braha already knew what he would do if the Pirates fell behind. He ordered defender Michelle Moure to move freely into the offensive attack. This strategy pushed the Pirates to a come-from-behind victory over Frontier Academy on April 12.
The strategy worked. Moure sneaked into the middle of the Danes' defense and delivered a 17-yard left-footed shot into the goal.
"Michelle can make the ball do whatever she wants it to do," Braha said.
"An amazing shot, considering she's a defender," Cleary said in admiration.
Moure's goal deflated the Danes, who had been minutes away from the title.
"We just ran out of gas a little at the end," Dacy said.
Don't be surprised if the Danes and Pirates tangle again deep in the state playoffs. The Danes (10-3) are youthful, but athletic and determined and physical. Bodies were flying during the entire game. This is a fierce, if friendly, rivalry.
Both teams had rampaged through most of their schedules, annihilating opponents on their journey. The rampaging ended on a windy afternoon as two evenly matched teams did battle.
Loof smiled in agreement when Braha talked about the wonders of adversity.
"I like it, if you ask me," she said.
That's good news. Plenty of adversity awaits the Pirates in the state tournament.