SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO – Stacey Finnerty knew she could make the game fun for the players when she returned as the San Clemente women’s football coach.
The five-time CIF-SS champion was unsure of the winning part, but so is it.
Forward Faith Gillett scored a deflection in the 72nd minute and compatriot Emily Sanchez made a bouncy first-half save to help the Newts upset host San Juan Hills 1-0 on Thursday night to continue their fast start in the difficult South Coast League. .
San Clemente beat Aliso Niguel 2-0 on Tuesday and shut out the defending league champion Stallions (9-2-2, 1-1), ranked sixth in the CIF-SS 1 division, in a physical match.
The Newts (7-2-1, 2-0) are not classified in Division 1 but maybe not for long.
“It was a great win for us, but I saw our team grow and improve,” said Finnerty, a veteran coach who returned to coach the Tritons after a five-year absence.
San Clemente displayed Finnerty’s signature defensive pressure, but increased his attacking power in the second half to level the scoring chances.
Gillett scored his second goal of the season by first deflecting a Stallions’ clearance attempt in their penalty area. She sprinted past the center-back to regain the rebound and threw a right-footed strike into the corner of the goal.
“I did everything I could to hinder the ball,” said Gillett, who was swarmed by her teammates after her goal. “I really think they’re our biggest competition so I’m really happy. We have all worked very hard and we want it for ourselves.
The 5-foot-3 Sanchez made a spectacular 20th-minute save on a Megan Swift header, scoring a corner, preventing the Stallions from their best scoring chance. Sanchez jumped to swing his head over the crossbar.
“Great save,” said San Juan Hills coach Farrel Moore.
San Juan Hills goaltender Julia Prouty responded minutes later with her own dive save on a cross shot from Sophia Yeskulsky.
Sanchez praised the Tritons defensive line consisting of Abby Succi, Malia McMahon, Addie Brislen, Samantha Lee and Isabella Maselli. Succi slipped in the first half to shatter another scoring opportunity.
“They’re amazing,” Sanchez said of the group. “Super stable in the back. I trust them all.
San Clemente displayed the spirit that Finnerty hoped to bring. They gathered to applaud before the game and pray after.
“I know I can at least make it fun,” said Finnerty, whose daughter Maddie is on the team but is injured. “I didn’t know if I could win again.”
“(San Juan Hills) are a very good team,” she added. “It will be a tough second round.”