PASADENA — Oh, the luxury of speed.
Pasadena Poly junior forward Noel Askins has certainly turned heads over her last two seasons with the Panthers and did so again Thursday afternoon.
CIF Southern Section Division III playoffs.
With the win, the Prep League champion Panthers (17-1-1) earned advancement to next Tuesday’s second round against Pacific League second-seeded Crescenta Valley (15-2-2). The Falcons punched their ticket with a 1-0 win over San Luis Obispo.
“We just wanted to come out and win today because this is a team with seven seniors and we want to make a deep run in the playoffs,” Askins said. “It’s crazy because I never expected to score three goals.”
Perhaps it was fitting that Askins kick-started Poly’s fast start when she beat two defenders to a throughball from senior striker Sarah Mendenhall and laced a left-to-right goal in the fourth minute from 10 yards to put Poly up, 1-0.
In the 33rd minute, Askins secured her second goal and gave the Panthers a 3-0 lead at halftime when she again beat her defender into position inside the box and scored from 15 yards off an assist from Kayla Valencia.
“I don’t really know what their strategy was against us, but I felt they kept their sweeper back too far so they wouldn’t get beat,” Askins said. “That gave us a lot of space.”
Perhaps that statement was best illustrated on Askins’ final goal in the 52nd minute, when a booming punt from Panthers goalie Mia Fernandez (four saves) was corralled by Askins 40 yards from goal.
Rather than attack Askins, the Tigers’ defense backpedaled as the Panthers junior gained valuable ground.
By the time a defender approached Askins, she laced her third and final goal to put Poly up, 4-0.
The Panthers added one last score in the 61st minute when Princeton-bound forward Mendenhall (two assists) scored off an assist from Williams College-bound Katie Wardlaw.
Previous to the fifth score, the Panthers also secured a goal in the 27th minute when a deflected pass from Mendenhall was booted in by Ryan Casey.
“You know, we were up 3-0 at halftime, but I wasn’t that comfortable,” Poly Coach Pat Gray said. “Valencia ran a high press and we had problems. Regardless of the score, we’ve got something to work on.”
Lost in the offensive shuffle was a solid effort by the Panthers’ defense, which notched its 11th shutout this season and sixth in a row.
“We’ve been getting a lot of shutouts this season and it’s great to see the defense come together,” said Panthers defender Brooke Edwards, who shut down Valencia’s top scorer in Kierstin Gamba. “It was a challenge to cover their best player, but I got great help from Catherine Boyer and Sloan Askins. This was a team win.”