After barely making it into the playoffs as an at-large selection, the Oak Park High girls soccer team knew it would have its work cut out for it with a CIF-Southern Section Division 3 first-round playoff game at Dos Pueblos.
The Chargers, for their part, were coming off of a Channel League championship season. Things got even more dicey for the Eagles after DP netted the game’s first goal in the seventh minute on a beautiful 30-yard strike by senior midfielder Kamila Picket. But in the end on a chilly Thursday night at Scott O’Leary Stadium, it was Oak Park coming out on top with a stunning 2-1 overtime victory.
The player of the game for the Eagles, the one who scored both of their goals, was senior Abigail Dermott.
Destined for SMU on a soccer scholarship, Dermott lined up a 25-yard shot in the second overtime and ripped it with her left foot just inside the right post to send Oak Park into the second round, and send the Chargers home with plenty of tears to go with them.
What made Dermott’s game winner even more impressive was that she hit a rocket with her off foot, and she has a broken toe on her left foot.
“This is definitely one of the most exciting moments in soccer for me,” she said. “I’ve been playing for so long that I’m lucky to have a lot of moments like these.
“To finish out my high school career as a senior, and have a win like this, I mean the team, the girls are just amazing. I’m so thankful to have been able to do it with them.”
Whatever pain Dermott might have felt with the kick because of her broken toe, was quickly replaced with utter euphoria, as she was mobbed, seconds later, by her teammates.
“I was dribbling in and I was actually looking for one of my teammates, and I think instinct just kind of took over,” Dermott said of her game winner. “I just decided to go for it, and it barely went inside the post. It was crazy.”
She was simply not ready for her final season in high school to end just yet.
“No I was not,” Dermott said with a big smile. “We were so grateful that we made it to the playoffs. We barely got in, and to be a part of continuing our season is insane.”
On the other side, the Chargers knew they had let one get away at the wrong time.
After Picket’s seventh-minute goal, Dos Pueblos had a number of quality attacks and chances to get a second goal. But it never came.
“The team is pretty distraught right now,” DP coach Seth Asuncion said. “They definitely worked hard out there, they left it all on the field and they never stopped fighting for one another. I just think right now it’s just a flood of emotions.
“For the seniors, it was their last game to ever be played here, and for the younger players, they’re saying goodbye to a lot of their friends. This will be the last time they’ll be able to play with them on the same field.”
Trailing 1-0 with time winding down in regulation, the Eagles put as much pressure on the Chargers’ back line as they could.
It paid off with just 10 minutes remaining when veteran referee Frank Anderson, who has officiated World Cup matches, called Dos Pueblos for a foul in its 18-yard box. It resulted in a penalty kick, and Dermott, who missed some of the regular season with her broken toe, was up for the challenge of getting her team even.
“Our coach beforehand had said, ‘Look over at me, I’ll tell you who’s taking the PK.’ I looked over at her and she pointed at me, and my heart just kind of started beating super fast,” Dermott said. “I knew I couldn’t get in my head because I sometimes tend to do that. So I just put the ball on the ground and I didn’t let myself look up at the keeper because I knew that would psych me out. I just went for it, because you’ve got to go all in on those things.
“I’m so excited. We get to do it again on Saturday. Hopefully we can make a really good run of it. I have a feeling with this team, we can.”
Asuncion admitted that he didn’t have the best angle on Anderson’s call of a foul in the box.
“It was hard for me to tell from here,” he said. “(Anderson) made the decision and we have to live with that. It could have been a pull down, it could have been they were just falling together at the same time. I couldn’t really see with my angle from here.”
After Dermott leveled the match with her successful PK, the Chargers went on full attack. They remained dangerous, especially in the first 10-minute overtime session, when they had possession for most of the period in the Oak Park end of the field.
But nothing in the form of a goal came from DP’s excellent work in the attacking end.
“Throughout our practice sessions building up to this game, we really emphasized transitioning quickly and putting the pressure on them the whole time,” Asuncion said. “I think it was just the workrate the girls were putting in. When they needed to slow the ball down to find the play, they were able to. And they were all communicating.
“I think the communication was key. They were calling to where they wanted the ball and to where the ball needed to be played.”
Asuncion went on to say how pleased he was with this year’s team, and everything it gave him, the coaching staff and the school.
“I would say what I’m most proud of from this group is their camaraderie,” he said. “They all came from five different club teams and they banded together and became a family throughout the whole process. They always strived to be the best. Their work ethic showed, and I think that last game we played against Santa Barbara really showed it as well.
“Although they won the Channel League championship, they were still upset (with a 0-0 draw against the Dons). They were hungry and they always wanted more. They never just settled for a win, they always wanted to be the best they could be.”