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Foothill League girls soccer: Power clash

Saugus hands West Ranch first league loss in a testy matchup

Posted: January 21, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: January 21, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Saugus senior Stacy Atwater, right, receives a pass near the goal as West Ranch defender Lizet Pacheco follows on Friday at Saugus High School. Atwater scored a goal in the game but later left with an injury.

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Two of the nation’s top ranked teams played an emotional, physical, game on Friday that even bordered on the rough side.

That’s how much Saugus and West Ranch girls soccer each wanted this game.

But it was the Centurions who took a first-half lead and held on for a 2-1 victory on Friday at Saugus High to become the Foothill League’s last unbeaten team.

Saugus entered the contest ranked No. 30 in the ESPNHS Powerade Fab 50 Girls’ Soccer Winter Rankings, while West Ranch sits at No. 33.

The win extends the Centurions’ Foothill unbeaten streak to 18 games and gives West Ranch (10-2-2, 1-1-2) its first league loss of the season.

But after the game, the result seemed to be the furthest thing from anyone’s mind.

The game was physical from start to finish, and featured a number of foul calls that both teams felt were worthy of yellow cards.

“Everyone in this league is physical,” Saugus’ Serena Smith-Banas said. “But this was a different kind of physical.”

Each team lost a player near the end of the game due to injury, West Ranch’s Valerie Mercado and Saugus’ Stacy Atwater.

Mercado collided with a Saugus opponent, drawing a foul from the referee.

She left with a head injury.

On the ensuing free kick, West Ranch pulled within a goal at 2-1 with 3:35 remaining on a Kendall Moskal score from 25 yards out.

Less than two minutes later, Atwater was fouled hard.

Atwater went down in pain, and appeared to suffer a broken collarbone, according to Saugus head coach Natalie Helgeson.

The two plays highlighted a day of rough play.

Atwater currently leads the team in goals scored, and she added her 15th goal of the season with 16 minutes remaining in the game when she took a through pass up the right side of the box and scored for a 2-0 lead.

She was taken to Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital for treatment.

“We are all heartbroken about her injury,” an emotional Helgeson said. “You can’t replace Stacy, but we’re a team and that’s what teams do. The good thing is we score from all different angles.”

Saugus (16-2-1, 4-0-0) proved that in this game, taking a lead with 12:35 left in the first half.

Monica Allen threw the ball into the box, where it was kicked around before bouncing to the feet of Smith-Banas.

The defender kicked the ball into the net for the game’s first goal.

And after taking a lead, the Centurions didn’t sit back and rely on their stellar defense.

“We tried to keep passing the whole time,” Smith-Banas said. “Against a team that plays like us, you can’t just play kick ball.”

That strategy worked for Saugus, as it was able to hold of West Ranch until the final minutes.

“It’s difficult,” said West Ranch head coach Jared White of trying to comeback against the Saugus defense. “I thought we did a good job of our build up but we get inside the attacking third and it’s difficult for us.”

They’ll have a chance to work on their offensive attack Tuesday when the Wildcats travel to Valencia.

The Centurions will try to regroup from the loss of Atwater when they face Golden Valley Tuesday.

A win there would put Saugus at 5-0 in league, halfway toward duplicating last season’s perfect league run.

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