McLane High barreled shot after shot at Washington’s Ashanti Ross.
And nearly every time, Ross was there to make the save.
The junior goalkeeper, who had never before played soccer until this season, made 13 key saves, including one in stoppage time as Washington edged McLane 2-1 Friday night to capture the school’s first Central Section boys soccer championship.
“I just know this school has been wanting a championship for a long time and they trusted me to bring it to them, to stay in the box and block every ball that came through and I did my best,” Ross said. “That’s all I could do.”
The Highlanders (15-10-2) came out firing, forcing two shots in the opening three minutes of the match at John Ventura Stadium.
McLane’s Jose Sagrero played dangerously on the left wing, sending in numerous crosses and at times cutting inside and splitting the Panthers’ defense for a shot at goal.
But each time, the ball ultimately ended up in the hands of Ross, who had six saves in the first half.
“He was the man this game,” Panthers coach Luis Robles said.
On a free kick following a foul near midfield in the 29th minute, the ball bounced around the box before the Panthers’ Angel Ortiz tapped it with his head over the McLane goalkeeper and into the net for a 1-0 lead. It was the first time in the playoffs the Highlanders trailed.
In the second half, McLane came out hungry, also in search of its first section boys soccer title, but couldn’t perfect its final touches with two near-misses to start the half.
Gerardo Palomar’s header barely went over the crossbar and Sagrero again split the defense, but his shot across goal at the far post was just inches wide.
Things got chippy as the game continued. Six yellow cards were issued, including four in the second half.
Tensions mounted even further after the second of two non-called contact plays on Highlanders forwards in the penalty area.
Highlanders coach Ramiro Teran was visibly furious, running up and down the sideline, and was eventually given a yellow card.
In the 65th minute, Ross punched away a shot that was quickly rebounded by the Highlanders’ Sagrero. Sagrero headed his shot past Ross — but there was left back Gabriel Contreras along the post to make a diving stop with his head on what would have been a tying goal.
Six minutes later, the Panthers extended their lead as Jonathan Rodriguez slotted home a first-touch goal.
Juan Flores scored for McLane in the 78th and the Highlanders went into full attack mode in hopes of scoring a goal in stoppage time and forcing overtime.
Still, like he had done all game, Ross was there to shut down the Highlanders when they came knocking at the door.
“This year we prepared better, we came together as a family and we did it,” Rodriguez said. “It feels good making history at Washington Union.”
The win earns Washington a bid into the Southern California Regional, with brackets announced March 8. Playoffs begin March 10.