The Marana girls soccer team may be well on its way to a playoff berth.
Last Tuesday, the Tigers resumed play after the holidays with a well-contested 3-2 win over Sabino. It moved Marana to 13-3 on the campaign.
Sabino gave the Tigers one of their most competitive games this year.
Ashley Willoughby broke a 2-2 tie with a long goal on a free kick at the 19:47 mark of the second half for the eventual winner. Willoughby came into the game with 13 goals, good for third in Southern Arizona. She also has eight assists.
It appeared Marana's Lauren Garcia had kicked the game's first goal into an empty net, but the shot was waived off due to offsides. But Garcia got another chance and scored with 10:57 left to make it 1-0 in the first. Jade Carr got the assist.
"It was a really aggressive game," Garcia said. "We knew it would be a good game."
The Sabercats got a goal of their own by Addison Brown, but the Tigers came back about five minutes later and regained the lead on a goal by Ariella Schneider. Sara Rosemore assisted on it for a 2-1 halftime lead.
A breakaway shot was denied, and a Marana penalty kick was missed during a two-minute span.
Sabino was not without its opportunities, outshooting the home team 17-8. The Tigers could never get too comfortable, as the Sabercats' Ashley Ross scored on a penalty kick to tie it at the 31:14 mark.
Garcia went down with an injury, which had coach Dan Tarquin holding his breath. "I'm missing three starters for possibly the rest of the year," Tarquin said.
Garcia was able to return and provide needed energy. She missed a shot wide left. But in the final minutes, Garcia made two very good defensive plays, heading out a centering pass near the goal box, then denying Sabino yet again.
But the Sabercats weren't through yet. Ria Joseph got near the goal box, but was met there by backup goalie Caitlin Ward, who stymied her advance. Then, Joseph came back about a minute later and hit the goal post.
"We pulled a defender," Tarquin said. "I can't say enough about how Caitlin filled in."
Ward was filling in for regular goalkeeper Tori Stocker, who might miss the rest of the year. Stocker has seven shutouts for the season, while the freshman Ward has another three.
"Kelsey Ballard did a great job," Tarquin said. "All four of our defenders did well, Nikki Koeppen, Jade Carr, Cheyenne Smith and Kelsey."
With the furious flurry by Sabino near the end, was Garcia worried?
"It was nerve-wracking," Garcia said. "But we knew we could get another goal if they scored."
The defense has shown itself all season for the Tigers, who have recorded 11 shutouts and allowed 12 goals.
"Our defense did a good job on them," Tarquin said. "It's really rewarding to win a game like this. We put forth the effort to get the win."
What about the playoff chances?
"I think if we keep up our intensity like in the last few games, we have a shot," Garcia said.
Marana's offense hasn't been too bad, either, as evidenced by 80 goals in 16 games.
Crystal Leon is fourth in area scoring with 11 goals, while Cassidy Troutman has nine assists, leading the area.
"Our goal is to make the playoffs," Tarquin said. "We've really only been outplayed in one game."