NEWPORT COAST — Sage Hill School girls' soccer coach Catie Chase said her team came into Tuesday night's key Academy League match against Oxford Academy with three objectives.
The first objective was to honor and celebrate the team's seniors on senior night. The second objective was to play well, and the third was to win.
The Lightning accomplished all three objectives. Junior Meg Crade scored twice as the hosts won, 2-0, to solidify their hold on third place in league and clinch a CIF Southern Section Division 5 playoff spot.
With one league match to go, Sage Hill (12-7-3, 4-4-1 in league) finally broke its third-place tie with Oxford Academy (3-5-1 in league). The teams played to a 1-1 draw in their first meeting in January.
"I feel like every time we play on our field, we always play so much better," Crade said. "We were a lot more prepared. We worked on passing and one-two touches, and switching the field. We just worked a lot harder."
Crade opened the scoring in the 29th minute, off a pass from freshman Alyssa Anderson. Crade's shot from near the top of the box found the lower left corner.
She struck again in the 46th minute, after the Oxford goalie came out but dropped the ball. The initial shot by senior Madi Jabara was blocked, but Crade found the back of the net with her shot, just before the Oxford keeper could get back in net.
The Lightning dominated scoring opportunities behind the play of juniors Allie Mowrey and Juliette Singarella and freshman Tiffany Taylor. Jabara nearly added her own goal with 10 minutes left, but the shot from the top of the box glanced off the right goal post.
"I've been playing soccer at Sage for three years now," Jabara said. "It felt really good to have a win like this. We've been so bonded this whole season. Especially after the last few games have been pretty rough, this is a pretty nice win for us."
The Sage back line of senior tri-captains Campbell Moore, Francesca D'Agostino and Sophia Witte kept Oxford's chances to a minimum. Chase felt comfortable enough to take sophomore Kekai Whitford out of the goal midway through the first half, placing her in the midfield. Freshman Lauren Thunen made three saves in goal for the Lightning the rest of the way.
"She's just such a rock back there when she's in the goal, so it's hard to take her out," Chase said of Whitford. "But in games where there's not too much action back there and we know she can make a big impact on the field, we'll get her out there. She clearly made a big impact on the field tonight, you could tell. She's a rock wherever you put her. She's one of those players."
Before the game the Lightning honored their eight seniors, including Moore, D'Agostino, Witte, Jabara, Natalie Singarella, Mona Lee, Brenna Van Hoogenstyn and Rachel Cramer. But it was clear that the Lightning have a bright future with their underclassmen as well.
"We have a lot of freshmen, and they have a lot of space to grow, too," Chase said. "They're talented, and I think over the next few years they're really going to grow as a team and as individuals. I think we have a lot of space to grow here."
Sage Hill closes out league play at last-place Brethren Christian on Thursday. CIF playoff brackets will be released Monday at noon.