CYPRESS — The Sage Hill School girls' soccer team came into Friday afternoon's match at Oxford Academy hoping for some separation in the Academy League playoff race.
But, after 100 minutes of soccer including overtime, the Lightning came away tied in more ways than one.
They tied the Patriots, 1-1, on the pitch at Oxford Academy. And the teams remain tied for third place in league, as well.
The top three teams in the six-team league make the CIF Southern Section Division 5 playoffs. With two-time defending CIF champion St. Margaret's and Crean Lutheran both at 4-0 in league, the fight for that third spot is fierce.
Sage Hill has claimed that third spot each of the last two years, advancing to the playoffs each time. Sage Hill (9-4-3, 1-2-1 in league) and Oxford (7-4-2, 1-2-1) play again on Feb. 5, at Sage Hill.
"It puts us in a real sticky situation," second-year Sage Hill Coach Catie Chase said. "I told them after the game. I said, 'You guys, we really have to start thinking about what we want for the future.' Obviously, that's to move ourselves up in our league. If that means practicing a little bit harder and getting our mindset where we want it to be, that's what we've got to do. We have practice on Monday, we're going to start from there and hopefully go on the upswing. I think this is a team that can do it. They can pull through."
The Lightning were the aggressors in the second half of Friday's match and particularly in the two 10-minute overtime periods. But they were unable to find the back of the net again.
Both teams scored in the first half. Oxford freshman Kaitlyn Sachs scored from near the top of the box in the 12th minute. The Lightning responded in the 26th minute, after a free kick from junior midfielder Allie Mowrey from just outside of the box.
The ball rebounded to freshman Tiffany Taylor, who stuck it in. Taylor is part of a strong freshman class for the Lightning. Midfielders Janis Jin and Rachael Jaffe also made plays for Sage, though Jaffe came out early in the second half with a left wrist injury.
"We lost seven seniors from last year, and six of them were starters," senior defender Campbell Moore said. "We pretty much lost half of our starting line, and the seniors last year made a huge difference on the team. But you know, the freshmen have stepped it up in ways that we can't believe. We don't feel like they're freshmen at all when we're playing out here on the field. They're totally a part of the team; they're doing awesome. They're leaders on the team as well."
The Sage Hill defense, anchored by senior captains Moore, Francesca D'Agostino and Sophia Witte and sophomore goalkeeper Kekai Whitford, was stout throughout the game. Whitford made a handful of saves, the most impressive when she came up to dive on the ball in the second overtime to stop an Oxford scoring opportunity.
Sage had two great chances to score the go-ahead goal in the second overtime. But a potential goal was taken away due to an offside call, one of about a dozen called on the Lightning during the match. The next minute, Mowrey's chance in front of the goal soared just a bit high and over the post.
Moore also had a couple of strong runs up the sideline, crossing the ball in front each time. But the Lightning couldn't get the winning goal. Junior keeper Aria Trejo made eight saves for Oxford.
"It's definitely frustrating," Moore said. "I think our team just needs to learn that we have to have that urgency throughout the entire game. We're working on it."
Juniors Juliette Singarella and Meg Crade also created plenty of chances for Sage, and senior midfielder Natalie Singarella also stood out with her play.
The Lightning play host to Saddleback Valley Christian in a nonleague game Wednesday at 5 p.m.