Calaveras senior Tiffany Souza's first-half goal and Gabby Krigbaum's game-winning save helped the Redskins topple the Mother Lode League-leading Amador Buffaloes in a battle for first place Thursday night.
The 1-0 shutout victory in San Andreas propelled the Redskins to the top of the MLL with just four games left in the 2013 girls' soccer season.
"I have never been so excited in my life," Souza said immediately after walking off the field Thursday night. "It's such an adrenaline rush! Amador's a great team and I'm just happy we came out strong, played our hardest and got the goal."
When asked about Souza's goal, which happened 18 minutes into the game, her teammates all used the same word to describe it - "Amazing."
"One of the coolest goals I've ever seen," said Redskin left defender Jordyn Leetham. "It gave us a boost of energy that we carried for the rest of the game."
After receiving the ball around midfield, Calaveras' Tina Giudici took it downfield and passed it down the right side to an open, sprinting Souza.
Souza pivoted and kicked a dart from a sharp angle about 10 yards out that flew just over the Amador goalkeeper's fingertips and into the back of the net much to the delight of an enthusiastic crowd in the stands at Frank Meyer Field.
"Tina's an amazing player and one of the best mids I've ever had," Souza said of Giudici, who recorded an assist on the goal.
That one goal was all it took for the Redskins to be victorious thanks to stingy defense from players like Pookie Gardina, a freshman, who closely guarded Amador's team captain and the MLL's reigning Midfielder of the Year Madissen Ostergaard.
"I had to follow her everywhere so I played at different positions that I never have before," Gardina said.
She gave a lot of credit to Krigbaum's sticky fingers for helping the Redskins defeat the formerly-in-first-place Buffaloes, especially in the final 10 seconds when Amador had a chance on a free kick lined up with the goal from about 20 yards out.
"I'm not sure what we would do without her," Gardina said. "She saved us tonight."
Ostergaard, who took the free kick in the nail-biting conclusion, sent the ball sailing over the heads of several Calaveras defenders and into Krigbaum's waiting arms.
"I'm just glad I caught it, that's all I can say," Krigbaum chuckled.
Amador's relentless offensive attack kept Krigbaum and Calaveras defenders on their toes, and the Redskin goalie gave credit to Leetham and Mercedes Ball for helping prevent the Buffaloes from scoring even when they were crashing the box.
"The defense played awesome," Ball said. "We always thought we could shut down Amador's offense and that's exactly what we did tonight by sticking together and playing a hard 80 minutes."
Ball, a senior at Calaveras High and the MLL's reigning Defensive Player of the Year, was last a sophomore when the Redskins were on top of the league and said she could get used to the feeling again.
"I remember we were the team to beat and I kind of like being the team to beat," she said. "We always play hard and this just gives us another thing to play for - keeping that first place title!"
Calaveras first-year head coach Rob Leetham said the tense feeling while awaiting the free kick at the end was all too familiar. The Buffaloes tied the Redskins 2-2 in the first game of the season on a similar play.
"Every game we've played with them this season has gone this way," Leetham said. "They are just fantastic. Barron Peterson is a great coach. They pass the ball so well and have so much speed, but we had some breaks, a big goal and great defense to hang on."
Leetham praised the way the entire Calaveras team played in the victory, which he called a "dream game for a coach."
"They played with a lot of composure and also a lot of heart," Leetham said. "We have a lot of work still to do, but we're going to enjoy this one tonight."
The Redskins are alone atop the MLL with a 9-1-1 record. The Buffaloes drop to second place now at 8-1-2. They both went 1-1-1 in the three games played against each other this season.
In order for Calaveras to claim its second MLL girls' soccer title in three years, it must travel to face Linden (2-6-3) on Tuesday and Summerville (2-8-1) on Thursday. The Redskins wrap up their season the following week against Argonaut (3-5-3) at home April 30 and Bret Harte (2-5-4) in Angels Camp for the finale May 2.
Leetham wasn't looking past Tuesday's game against the Lions, who gave the Redskins a run last time the teams played at Linden High with Calaveras narrowly prevailing 1-0.
"I'm always worried about Linden like I am any other team in our league," Leetham said. "They have a great defense and a new coach who is doing great things for them, so I know it's going to be a battle."