For the Santa Monica girls soccer team, 40 minutes felt like forever.
The Vikings had overcome a worrisome start to earn a comfortable cushion entering halftime, but a trip to the section semifinals still felt far away.
“It‚Äôs nerve-racking,” sophomore Maggie Lena said. “You just want the game to end. It‚Äôs almost more nerve-racking to be ahead than behind.”
Anxiety eventually gave way to elation as Samohi topped Oak Park 4-2 in the CIF Southern Section quarterfinals at home Thursday afternoon, securing a spot in the final four for the first time in seven seasons.
The Vikings are scheduled to play Tuesday against La Mirada, the school that defeated them in a penalty-kick shootout in the 2007-08 semifinals. The winner will meet either Riverside Poly or Moorpark in the championship game.
Santa Monica has seemingly rounded into form with near-perfect timing, going 12-0-1 over its last 13 games. The squad has not lost since Jan. 8.
And since winning their second-straight Ocean League title, the Vikings (15-6-3) have carried their momentum into the postseason. They edged Santa Paula 3-2 in the opening round Feb. 19 and blasted San Marino 4-1 in the second round Feb. 24.
But getting to the semifinals was no small feat for Samohi, which fell in the quarterfinals last year and in the second round in each of the previous three seasons.
“It‚Äôs crazy,” senior Ariana Lomeli said. “It‚Äôs insane. I‚Äôm excited. We‚Äôve worked really hard, and it‚Äôs paid off.”
After sophomore goalkeeper Madeline Kresin (18 saves) and the back line fended off Oak Park‚Äôs attack for long stretches during the opening 15 minutes of the match, the Vikings seized control on goals by Lena, Lomeli and senior Gabriella Dyrek.
Lena scored in the 22nd minute, catapulting the ball into the net after finding herself open on a pass from Lomeli. In the 35th minute, Lomeli chased down and corralled a high-arcing pass from junior Chloe Kleinman and powered a shot past Eagles goalkeeper Colette Lozito. Dyrek finished the flurry in the 39th minute, tapping in Lomeli‚Äôs corner kick.
“We were nervous in the beginning,” Lena said. “Then we finally realized, ‚ÄòThis is it ‚Äî we‚Äôre going home if we don‚Äôt attack the net.‚Äô”
Samohi kept Oak Park at bay until the 67th minute, when junior Hannah Adler spun and fired a shot to make it 3-1.
The goal quickly reminded the Vikings what they had done in the first half and that the Eagles (17-5) were capable of a similar surge if they weren‚Äôt careful.
“If we can put in three in 40 minutes,” Santa Monica coach Jimmy Chapman said he told his players at the break, “then they can do it as well because they‚Äôre a strong side.”
Amber King quashed the Eagles‚Äô comeback with a rocket of a goal in the 70th minute, putting away Lena‚Äôs pass to give the Vikings a 4-1 edge. Jordyn Bradbury added a goal for Oak Park in the 77th.
Samohi, which has outscored its opponents 54-30 this season, has scored at least three goals in 11 matches. It remains to be seen whether the squad can build on those totals ‚Äî and extend its season ‚Äî against La Mirada.
“It‚Äôs going to take strength,” Lomeli said. “We need to be focused and stick to our game.”
Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.