LCC girls knock out favored Torrey Pines in CIF lacrosse quarterfinal
In a game that they led for less than four minutes, the underdog La Costa Canyon girls lacrosse team stunned second-seeded host Torrey Pines, 10-9, in Thursday’s CIF Open Division quarterfinal clash.
The triumph catapults No. 7 seed LCC (8-8) into a road semi-final next Tuesday against No. 3 Scripps Ranch (16-3), the two-time defending Open Division champion and an 11-7 winner over San Marcos in round one. Torrey Pines, which defeated LCC, 16-9, in a regular season match-up last month, finishes 13-5.
The massive win for LCC came just days after Head Coach Casey Belitz surprisingly announced that she would be retiring at the end of the season. A four-time CIF Championship winner during her celebrated 11-year tenure , Belitz is obviously familiar with the feeling accompanying this type of win, even though the last section title came in 2015. To be able to re-experience those sensations in the playoffs, against arch-rival Torrey Pines as the conclusion of her career looms with the next loss made it extremely special.
“This felt like the championship to me, it felt that big,” said an ecstatic Belitz after the come-from-behind performance. “I think it felt that way to my girls too. Our girls haven’t won a game like this in a long time—it meant so much.”
It didn’t come easy. In fact, early on, one got the sense it might be a runaway for the home team. Torrey Pines took control immediately with junior Ellie Davidson scoring just 29 seconds after the opening whistle. With 13:49 to go in the first half, the first of sophomore Laurel Gonzales’ two goals pushed the Falcons’ advantage to three at 4-1.
However, despite continuing to dictate the run of play, they were unable to increase the lead. When LCC sophomore Piper Mackley scored off a penalty re-start with 2:29 on the clock, the persistent Mavericks narrowed it to 5-4, a gap which held through halftime.
Belitz’s club seemed to have positive energy coming out of the break but Torrey Pines quickly re-asserted itself, Gonzales converting on a pass-and-shoot from a behind the net flick. The action was fast and furious from that point as the teams exchanged goals. At 7-6, on the heels of a goal by junior Maddie Desjardins, Belitz, sensing her side needed to catch its breath and maybe re-center, called time out with 15:00 remaining.
“I thought we looked gassed and I wanted to put the situation in perspective,” said Belitz. “I told them that the time in front of them was ‘only 15 minutes of your life’ and they needed to just go out and give everything they had for those 15 minutes.
“It seemed like the clouds kind of parted. Every one of them showed up and played as well as they had all afternoon.”
Although, once again, Torrey scored right out of the stoppage, sophomore Tatum Bryant collecting a pass from Gonzales on the move and going right to net, the momentum seemed to be LCC’s.
At the 12:27 mark, the Mavs pulled it back to within one at 8-7 when a circling Desjardins pulled the trigger following a huge sequence by Hudson Ebbers that included recovering a contested ground ball that kept the attack alive.
That was still the score when LCC turned it over in the Torrey Pines end with 10 and a half minutes showing. What then transpired was the type of invisible play that gets lost in the highlights but so often plays a decisive role in these type of games. Back-checking behind the Torrey Pines goal, junior Emily Truelock forced Falcon goalie Camille Samarasinghe to step out of bounds giving the ball back to the Mavs.
Trying to take advantage of their good fortune, the visitors turned up the pressure on the TP goal. The shifty Mitchell rifled a shot off the post and moments later junior Reese Odiorne moved to the left of Samarasinghe and put a right-handed rocket off the far post and in, finally bringing LCC back even, 8-8.
Less than two minutes later, La Costa Canyon got a free position call and it was Desjardins again. Her third goal of the second half gave the Mavericks their first lead with under 9:00 to go. They had a golden opportunity to double the margin but turned it over and Torrey Pines raced the length of the field, Hsu knotting it up once more at 9-9.
It was tight rope time as the scoreboard dipped below the 2:00 minute mark. Then, at 1:48, off of another re-start, Odiorne flashed across the front of the goal area and once again went cross cage, depositing what proved to be the game winner in the back of the net. Odiorne and Desjardins combined for their team’s final five goals.
The Mavericks were able to run out the remaining 108 seconds, setting off an unbridled celebration that definitively cast out all downsides of a season that began with recurring frustration and now has seen the team win six of its last seven contests.
The outcome was not a complete shock to Belitz. “We visualized this all week long, we knew it was going to be a close game,” she said. “It was all about pride. We focused on the idea that when we came off that field today, win or lose, every one of them needed to make sure they were proud about what they put out.
“It’s LCC-Torrey, that rivalry has been with me since I was a player. It sticks with you for life.”
Behind the Torrey Pines bench 15 minutes removed from the game’s conclusion, Head Coach Kaitlin Doucette, who has coached three CIF Open crown-winning teams herself, seemed still somewhat in a state of disbelief.
“I never felt we were going to lose that game,” she lamented. “But my worst fears came true—they played free, we weren’t finishing our chances and Mitchell crushed it on the draws for them. I sent five different people out there to draw against her and it just wasn’t working.”
After the brief analysis, Doucette sort of smiled and shrugged in resignation, “It’s LCC and Torrey Pines. These kind of things happen. This was Casey’s bread and butter. She’s a fabulous coach and so good at creating an inspirational environment.” For Doucette and the Falcons, Hsu, Gonzales, Tatum and senior Reese Loseke had two goals apiece.
There were plenty of heroes for the Mavericks besides three-goal scorers, Odiorne and Desjardins, Coming up big time and again, Goalie Char Stanford and the entire defense were on the list for sure, but the one standing at the top of the heap was Mitchell.
Whether it was winning draws, scoring goals (2) or just generally creating chaos in the offensive zone, the 5-foot-3 Mitchell, LCC’s shortest player, was also its heart and soul for 50 minutes.
“She’s phenomenal, such a momentum shifter on the draw,” said Belitz. “It seemed like she was winning every draw, particularly in the second half. When that happened, I could feel them (TP) not connecting as well anymore because they didn’t have the ball like they did in the first half.”
Mitchell was still excited well after the post-game craziness had died down but had her focus on the bigger task still in front of them.
“I think we still know we’ve got a lot to prove and we’ll be out at practice tomorrow at 6 a.m., said Mitchell. “We want the ‘ship so we’re going to keep working hard.” That doesn’t mean she wasn’t going to enjoy the first playoff win for at least a little while.
“For sure, this was the best win I’ve ever been part of,” said Mitchell. “We’ve worked really hard and it showed. Our coach’s retirement, honestly, that was a huge motivation for us today. She means a lot to us. If this was her last game, we wanted to make it special.” It wasn’t, but consider that mission accomplished.
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