Benefield: Petaluma girls' NCS soccer win a celebration in more ways than one

PETALUMA - Petaluma High junior Lauren Hazel knows how to throw a birthday party.

The midfielder turned 17 Saturday and celebrated by wreaking havoc on the No. 7 El Cerrito Gauchos' defense and scoring two goals to lead the No. 2 Trojans to a 3-0 victory in the quarterfinals of the North Coast Section Division 3 girls soccer tournament.

The win sets up a semifinal Wednesday against No. 3 Campolindo, which beat No. 6 Acalanes 3-1 Saturday.

After a painfully slow start, the Trojans found their footing - and their collective team speed - about halfway through the first half. And once Hazel netted the first of her two first-half goals, the shift in momentum was locked and the home team never looked truly threatened again.

“I think we were all kind of nervous because this means a lot to us,” Hazel said. “Once we got it moving, we just kept going and couldn't stop.”

It might be more accurate to say that the Gauchos couldn't stop them.

At play in the slow start, perhaps, was memory of the first time these two teams met this season. The Trojans won 3-2 back in December, but it was a tight game with lead changes.

“I think we were maybe a little bit hesitant because we had had a really close game with them last time we played so I think we were just trying to test the waters and see how they had changed,” senior Frances Goughnour said. “And once we realized that … we were just overall the stronger team it got a little easier as the game went on. Just that first goal really brought up the energy, it was higher speed and more intense from there on out and we had some good momentum.”

“So much of this is about the first goal and the momentum so I feel like once we had that, we were so much more confident,” she said.

If anyone watched just the first five minutes of the game, then returned for the closing five minutes, they'd probably think someone pulled a switcheroo. It was a toss-up at the opening whistle over who was better, but the Trojans were utterly dominating in the latter portion of the first half and it wasn't close in the second.

It was like a light switch went on and the Trojans suddenly realized they were flat-out faster at every position on the field.

The flick of that light switch came in part thanks to the dynamic play of Hazel and Goughnour and the Trojans' penchant for bringing speedy defenders into the attack regularly.

The Gauchos could not deal with the speed of junior defender Amanda Rocha down the right side in the first half and junior Zoe Frothinger down the left in the second.

Frothinger capped her strong night with a goal in stoppage time that, remarkably, did not come from one of her many runs into the attack. Frothinger got it after a Petaluma corner kick wasn't properly cleared. The ball stuck around the 18-yard box until a Gaucho defender tried to dribble it out - Frothinger swooped in for the kill.

She stole the ball and looked up, seeming momentarily shocked that no one stuck with her. One more touch to set up her right foot and she let one fly into the upper corner of the right side of the goal.

That set the final score: Trojans 3, El Cerrito 0.

The clean sheet was thanks in large part to four-year varsity centerback Tessa Lambert. Lambert neutralized the few chances El Cerrito was able to muster all night.

And be sure, the Gauchos did not have an anemic offense before they rolled into Petaluma. They brought a 12-4-3 overall record in, as well as a 9-0-3 finish in the Tri-County Athletic League-Rock Division. They feature players who have 15 and 16 goals on the season.

Not against a back line with freshman goalkeeper Silvana Sessi, along with Rocha, Frothinger and Lampert ,they didn't.

“She does everything,” coach Deegan Babala said of Lambert. “Tessa Lambert has been an All-Star all season ... she is probably one of our only players that really hasn't made too many mistakes this season. We rely on her for so much.”

But this was a night of offensive fireworks. And truth be told, Hazel probably could have celebrated her birthday with five goals Saturday night. She was buzzing around the goal and had a number of chances that left her shaking her head.

“She has an amazing shot,” Goughnour said of her teammate. “I think the birthday motivation for sure helps. She was on fire tonight. It's so great when it's that kind of night.”

So Hazel was all smiles after the game. There wasn't a cake or even presents, but Hazel made sure to mark the day by uncorking a couple of doozy goals and help book the Trojans a spot in the semifinals Wednesday.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud, “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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