Palo Verde girls soccer coach Frank Messina gathered his players near their bench on Wednesday evening after their game and delivered a brief, but poignant message.
“If you keep playing like that,” Messina said, “you’re going to be tough to beat.”
Hard to argue with that.
The third-ranked Panthers paired a strong offensive showing with an impregnable defense to secure a 1-0 home victory over No. 4 Centennial.
Palo Verde senior forward Macee Barlow scored the only goal of the game with about 15 minutes left in regulation, and the Panthers (9-1-1, 3-0 Northwest League) kept Bulldogs standout forwards Marcella Brooks and McKenna Stratton in check.
“I was looking for a good game. I knew I was going to get a good game out of Centennial,” Messina said. “They’re coached pretty well over there. I wasn’t expecting anything less than a great game out of both teams. We played a really good game tonight.”
Messina was especially pleased given the nature and recent history of the rivalry — the Bulldogs (8-2-1, 2-1-1) have eliminated the Panthers from the playoffs in four of the last five seasons, including last year — and Barlow, too, acknowledged the additional intensity.
“It was super disappointing. Not necessarily that we should have won, but we shouldn’t have lost,” Barlow said, referring to last season’s playoff loss to Centennial. “We just really want to beat this team every time we play them.”
Palo Verde was aggressive early in the first half, but scoring opportunities were at a premium, and the teams eventually settled in near midfield and traded offensive possessions.
Brooks and Stratton had a couple decent looks but didn’t convert in a scoreless first half, and Palo Verde also failed to cash in on their chances.
The Panthers were more aggressive in the second half, though, and that aggression finally paid off late in the stanza when Barlow tracked down a loose ball, dribbled toward the net and a lofted a looper over Centennial goalkeeper Addison Riddle’s head.
“Our high intensity and our high pressure worked for us,” said Barlow, who is committed to play at the University of Denver. “We just got everything going pretty quick.”
Centennial coach Kristina Kasten was gracious in defeat and said she always enjoys competitive games against Palo Verde.
“It’s always back and forth,” Kasten said. “We’re pretty equal, consistently. I think it’s just a matter of who has the most energy that day or who plays the better game that day. Today they had it.”