By Jeremy Balan
Despite scoring the first three goals of the game on the road against Mission High School, Lowell’s 25th consecutive Academic Athletic Association victory was anything but comfortable.
Lowell senior captain Max Pollard scored three goals in an 11-minute span midway through the first half, and the Cardinals withstood a fervent second-half Mission surge to hold on for the 3-1 victory.
The Bears (6-5-3, 4-2-1) dominated the second half, outshooting Lowell 7-1, but could not erase the 3-1 halftime deficit.
“We dominated the second half, but if you look at the score, we got our asses kicked,” said Mission head coach Scott Kennedy. “A lot of it’s luck, and we just don’t have any luck right now. I just wish we could generate that energy that we had in the second half in the first half.”
Lowell (8-0-1, 7-0-0) was noticeably on its heels late in the first half and for the entire second half, but it was Pollard’s early burst that ultimately was the difference. Pollard provided all of the Cardinals’ offense, but what may have been most impressive was the tremendous versatility he showed in each goal.
On the first goal in the 14th minute, Pollard slipped behind the Mission back line on a long ball from a Lowell defender and simply outran the Bears’ defenders, dodged oncoming goaltender Joacim Perez, then rifled a shot into the top half of the net.
The second came just four minutes later on a header off a corner kick from junior Avery Fisher and the third, in the 25th minute, came off a Mission turnover in its defensive third. Pollard intercepted a Mission pass and hit a low shot into the right-hand corner of the net to put the Cardinals up 3-0.
“I just try to get on the end of every ball,” Pollard said. “I just try to fight for every ball and hopefully the best comes out of that.”
The Bears struck back in the 30th minute, when Lowell goalkeeper Eduardo Camacho misplayed a centering pass and lost control of the ball, allowing Mission junior Ronny Bautista to chip in an easy goal.
Camacho bounced back after the mistake, though, and was the undisputed star for the Cardinals in the second half, turning aside seven Mission shots to hold off the second-half surge.
“Eduardo is a very capable player and he did fantastic,” said Lowell head coach Marcos Estebez. “We talked about asserting himself at halftime and I thought he did that fantastically. We needed him.”
Normally calm and reserved on the sideline, Estebez was visibly frustrated on Thursday and wasn’t shy about sharing those frustrations with his team.
“For 15 minutes in the first half and all of the second half, this was [Mission’s] game,” Estebez said. “It has been an unfortunate characteristic of this team and a bit of déjà vu. For 70 minutes, we were outplayed, and that does not a championship team make.”
For Mission, which is holding a slim lead over O’Connell for the final playoff spot in the AAA’s Y Division, improvement is of utmost importance.
“My teams don’t fold,” Kennedy said. “We have more than half a season to go. A lot can happen, so we’ll see.”