ATHERTON, Calif. — Just when it looked like the Sacred Heart Prep Gators were running out of steam, Luke Maxwell had one more trick up his sleeve.
The junior forward roofed a goal from a nearly impossible angle in the 59th minute of Tuesday’s Northern California Division IV quarterfinal, giving the Gators a two-goal lead that held up in a 2-0 win over Piedmont.
“I’m not really sure, to be honest,” Maxwell said when asked how he managed the second goal. “I’m not gonna question it. I’m just happy it went in, and I’ll just go with that.”
Second-seeded Sacred Heart Prep (15-5-2) dominated the first half, taking a 1-0 lead on Maxwell’s breakaway goal in the 38th minute and outshooting the Highlanders 12-1, but seemed to hit a wall early in the second half as Piedmont (15-4-2) ramped up the pressure to start the second half. Junior forward Russel Tan generated four chances for the seventh-seeded visitors in a five-minute window, setting up freshman Sam Shelby for a chance with a through ball and taking three shots of his own, two of which went wide. The other was stopped by Logan Aboudara, who made five saves on the afternoon.
Still trying to recapture energy after using everything in the tank in Saturday’s CCS Division II victory over rival Menlo-Atherton, the Gators found just enough to get the insurance goal. Five minutes earlier, the Highlanders had arguably their best chance of the day when Arjun Silverberg charged the net off an Aiden Woolwine through ball, but Aboudara made the save. Maxwell barely missed wide in the 58th minute but got another chance in the 59th off a Carlos Deras pass. He dribbled for nearly 30 yards, then picked the top corner from a sharp angle along the goal line.
“He’s a lethal weapon. He looked up to try to pass for a one-touch finish and realized nobody was there, so he roofed it,” SHP head coach Armando Del Rio said. “Luke is so good for us vertically, and as our team played deeper defensively, although that invited them to attack a little more, it does create space for guys like Luke.”
Piedmont only had one more significant chance after Maxwell’s second goal, a Conner Curtis shot that Aboudara corralled in the 73th minute. All five of Aboudara’s saves came in the second half.
“I wanted to just focus on our defensive structure. We took some attacking players out and put some more defensive-minded players in,” Del Rio said of the second half. “We’re always a team that wants another goal, but today we really needed to focus defensively.”
The Gators came out swinging in the first half, earning four corner kicks in the first 25 minutes and creating their best early chance in the 15th when Piedmont’s Daniel Malecki saved a Luca Suarez header. Maxwell rewarded his teammates with the first goal in the 38th, scoring from a much more conventional angle than his latter tally.