For 50 minutes Thursday, Shadow Ridge’s girls soccer team had an answer for everything Palo Verde threw at it, especially standout Sila Tuiofea.
Then up stepped Alexa D’Acunto.
D’Acunto had a goal and an assist to help the Panthers defeat Shadow Ridge 2-0 to stay tied atop the Northwest League standings.
The win puts some much-needed space between the Panthers and Mustangs, who both entered the match at 4-1 and tied with Arbor View and Centennial at the top of the Northwest.
Arbor View and Centennial also won Thursday, leading the Aggies, Bulldogs and Panthers in a crowded penthouse.
“I actually used that before the game. I said, 'who’s going to win the race? Everybody’s 4-1,’” Palo Verde coach Frank Messina said. “The difference now between who moves up and who stays at (fourth place) is right now. They just had to play tough this game, and be physical.”
Tuiofea relentlessly went to the goal in the first half, taking three of the four shots on goal for the Panthers (6-3-3, 5-1 Northwest). But Shadow Ridge goalkeeper Dallas Gunny parried each attempt, and also turned away a blast off a fast break by Jordan Fleming in the 30th minute, to keep the Mustangs (7-2-1, 4-2) even with the Panthers at the break.
Palo Verde finally broke through in the 52nd minute, when Tuiofea crushed a free kick from 22 yards out into the middle of the frame. Gunny batted down the shot, but the ball fell in front of the goal, where D’Acunto pounced and put it into the back of the net.
“They had Sila locked down pretty tight, so we knew we were going to have to feed the ball to Alexa,” Messina said. “And that’s pretty much how we got that first goal. Because of the player (Tuiofea) is ... we needed to try to feed it the other way. It bought us the first goal, and freed up Alexa all game.”
Tuiofea, who has committed to Gonzaga, scored five minutes later, when D’Acunto served a long ball into the box for an easy chip over Gunny’s head that helped ice the win for the Panthers.
“I just told them they had a brand-new, 40-minute game,” Messina told his team after the scoreless first half. “You couldn’t ask for a better score, unless you were up.
“I knew (Shadow Ridge was) going to be physical and ready to play. Coming off a win against Arbor View, they were probably feeling pretty confident.”
The Mustangs put up 14 shots, including two on target after the Panthers’ second goal. But Stacie Gubler made four saves to keep the shutout for Palo Verde.
“She’s had one goal against her from (Shadow Ridge),” Messina said. “She needed to keep it that way. We’ve beaten this team before with her starting. But this team is dangerous. They’ve always been dangerous. You never know what they’re going to do.”
Gunny finished with six saves for Shadow Ridge, which has only allowed eight goals all season.