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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
It’s no secret that in most years, the final automatic California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section playoff berth coming out of the Suburban League will be either Artesia High or Cerritos High. Those two were playing for fourth place once again in a rare early afternoon tilt last Friday afternoon and this time, the visiting Pioneers came away with a 2-1 victory.
The win avenged an earlier 1-0 loss in which Artesia was limited to just five shots in the game. The rematch would see Artesia take five shots in the first half alone but more importantly, both goals from junior forward Brittany Llanes.
“I think this game really just exemplified putting every minute and every player doing exactly what they needed to do the entire game,” said Artesia first-year head coach Valerie Blomquist. “I think that’s what we had been missing. We have great connection, but we can’t put it in the goal. Or, we put it in the goal, then we have a mental lapse on defense. So I think this is the first game where we’re really kind of meshing.”
The win improved Artesia’s mark to 7-9-2 overall and 3-5 in league play. The Lady Dons, who had a strong start to their season, heads into this weekend at 10-5-1, 4-5 which includes a 2-0 loss to La Mirada High this past Monday and a 2-0 win over Norwalk High this past Wednesday.
“We just didn’t play very well,” said Cerritos head coach Robert Adams. “We weren’t well enough prepared to go out against a team that played really hard, trying to save their season, and we are too. I think that part of it was equal.”
Llanes put the Pioneers up 1-0 in the 12th minute when she carved through a porous Cerritos defense and took a shot from the right side of the net. Immediately, she went down after she tweaked her left ankle, which has been bothering her from some time. But she would return eight minutes later.
With the score tied, Llanes wreaked havoc on the Cerritos defense again as she took control of a misplayed ball in the 49th minute and took a shot that was deflected up by senior goalkeeper Andrea Diaz. However, the ball bounced right behind Diaz and barely snuck into the net. Llanes leads Artesia with 15 goals with the rest of the team combining for 17 other goals.
“Brittany is just such a consistent player,” Blomquist said. “When you put her on, there’s a complete change in the atmosphere and the intensity in the game. She has great composure with the ball and she’s dangerous at the same time. It’s really just fun to watch.”
“It started ahead of the midfield,” Adams said. “They played very directly to [Llanes], so we let them clear the ball. We didn’t win the first ball from our midfield and the next ball went through the middle of the defense. The next ball went to Andrea and Andrea didn’t make a clean catch. We spread the fault through three levels at that [goal], which is what has to happen.”
Cerritos, which was held to two shots in the first game with the Pioneers, had three in the first half. The best chance came two minutes before halftime when freshman Jayda Anusasanananta’s breakaway shot was stopped by sophomore goalie Shiann Mustafa. The equalizer of the game came three minutes into the second half when sophomore defender Iris Lee broke away from a mad scramble in front of the net and tapped in her second tally of the season.
“I think more than that, it had to do with the type of play,” Adams said. “We were trying to play the ball around, so the more we tried to possess…in order to spread the opponent out, in this case Artesia, we need to be able to play the ball around.”
Two minutes following the game-winner, Lee had a shot that was deflected by Mustafa and in the 73rd minute, Anusasanananta got past a crowded Artesia defense and took a point blank shot from three yards inside the penalty box. The last chance for the Lady Dons came with less than minute remaining when a free kick from junior midfielder Kavitha George was saved by Mustafa. Cerritos would take six shots on goal in the second half to finish the game with a 9-8 advantage over Artesia in that department.
“Going into that first game with Cerritos, we had had a lot of injuries,” Blomquist said. “We had a broken ankle, an ACL and it kind of shocked a lot of girls on the team. So, we’ve transitioned girls into new positions and they’re stepping up and playing roles they didn’t necessarily think that they were going to play in that first game. So they’ve had time to adjust and understand their [new] position a little bit better.”
Artesia will visit third place Mayfair High today before ending the regular season with home games against league-leading La Mirada and second place Bellflower High on Tuesday and Thursday respectively. Cerritos will visit last place John Glenn High today, then host La Mirada on Monday in a make-up game before concluding the regular season at home against Mayfair on Tuesday. Artesia has advanced to the postseason eight straight seasons while Cerritos has been to the playoffs five times in the past 10 seasons.
“They’ve worked so hard all season and I know a lot of our results don’t look like it’s there,” Blomquist said. “But they’ve given everything they’ve had and I think, now more than ever, especially the seniors, they want to leave it all out on the field.”
“It’s unfortunate that we weren’t able to get all the way back up and over the hill today to make things a little more comfortable for ourselves,” Adams said. “Now we’re in the same scramble that Artesia is. At some point we’re going to have to earn points from teams that are very difficult to contend with.”
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