One of the common adages in soccer – like in most sports – is to always be aware of your surroundings.
Being in the right place at the right time, for example, could mean the difference in a win or a loss.
Santa Barbara High’s Hayden Randolph was in the right place Thursday night against San Marcos.
In the 79th minute, the Dons’ Athena Bow-Graham fired a shot from about 35 yards out. Her shot looked like it was going to fall into the arms of the Royals’ keeper, Anna Kirk.
Kirk, however, misplayed the ball and it landed right in front of her.
That’s when Randolph ran in and fired the shot past Kirk.
The junior’s goal proved to be just enough for Santa Barbara to earn a crucial 1-0 win over San Marcos Thursday at Warkentin Stadium that puts them right back into the thick of things in the Channel League standings.
“I saw the ball cross over and it was kind of just up to me,” Randolph said.
“I was the one left with the ball so I just took my shot. It wasn’t very nerve-wracking, we needed to dig deep and we did and it feels really good to get this win and give us momentum.”
The victory not only allowed the Dons to get their revenge on their crosstown rival Royals after suffering a 1-0 loss earlier this season but it also evens them up at 2-2-2 through six Channel League games.
Additionally, Santa Barbara, with eight points, currently sits at third in the standings, which would push them through to the postseason. Coming into the day, the Dons were in fourth behind Santa Ynez, who lost to Dos Pueblos Thursday allowing the sides to flip spots.
“It’s really exciting to be right there with a chance to win the league this late in the season,” Santa Barbara’s Lizzie Goss said.
“That’s definitely our main goal. Our team has so many good players and we have so much potential so it’s really exciting to see how far we can go.”
Lompoc is first in the Channel League with a 3-0-3 mark (12 points) while DP is close behind with a 3-1-2 mark (11 points).
With the loss, San Marcos remains tied for last with just four points (1-4-1).
“It’s not over, but we have to win. We’re forced to win,” San Marcos coach Jennifer Sotelo said.
“What we have to focus on in the next four games is not playing as individuals and just playing as a team. Some of us want to be like Kobe Bryant and we can’t do that.”
One thing already going against the Royals to start the game was having to play without their captain, Paige Ingram.
A couple of weeks ago, it was Ingram’s 50-yard strike that delivered San Marcos its first Channel League victory in nearly two years.
Still, even without their junior captain, the Royals were able to create a litany of opportunities.
In the first half especially, San Marcos outshot Santa Barbara 9-5, with a good amount of those looks being on target.
The teams’ best chance came in the 21st minute when Kayla Julio made a great move to the outside and played the ball into the 18 to Evony Diaz. Diaz, who was one on one with the keeper, could not muscle through the goal, resulting in a save.
Santa Barbara also had some good looks in the first half Thursday night.
Unlike their previous match against San Marcos, the Dons were able to move the ball into the final third a lot. Usually, the Royals’ defense would stiffen up, but the Dons were feisty, creating a lot more opportunities.
“We’re really utilizing the width of our field to then spread the field wide,” Santa Barbara coach Bridget Thomson said.
That key difference in Santa Barbara’s offense is what allowed them to score later in the contest.
Before the score, however, Kirk was having a fantastic game in goal for the Royals.
The sophomore keeper was making save after save Thursday, including a key save in the 23rd minute when a deflected kick somehow looked like it was going to find the back of the net.
Kirk, out of position, ran backward and was able to deflect the ball out. It was cleared by a San Marcos defender moments later. Kirk finished with five saves.
In the 79th minute, however, the Dons’ offensive gameplan worked. The ball was played out wide to Bow-Graham who fired a very tough shot.
Once Kirk misplayed it, Santa Barbara had a couple of players ready to attack the loose ball and it was Randolph who was the lucky Don who netted the game winner.
“I saw it coming and then the light blinded me. I was about to get it but then I couldn’t see and one girl blocked me off and the other scored,” Kirk said.
“That’s exactly what happened. We played it out wide, got a cross off and Randolph was had a really good shot,” Thomson said.
“We all just started embracing each other because it really felt like the entire game we were working towards that moment. We were really creating a lot of chances so it just felt so good to finally get the monkey off our back.”
The Royals’ best chance at an equalizer came in the 78th when a cross would have found a San Marcos player if Goss had not been there to head it away.
As a defensive midfielder, Goss makes a similar play like that a couple of times a game, but the junior admitted that the moment is a bit intimidating considering the circumstances.
“It’s a scary thing because if you miss it or something happens it’s all on you because you’re in the final third so it’s definitely a scary thing but the more you think about it, the worse you’re going to do,” Goss said.
“You just have to use your head, literally,”
Goss used her head and cleared the ball away with ease. Goss said after the game another key difference for the team has been the addition of coach Willie Sims.
Thomson added Sims to the staff to help the team with tactical play.
“He brings a different energy to the team and it helps a lot,” Goss said.