TEMECULA — Michelle Craft saw confusion spreading in Alta Loma's backfield as Rachel Makwinski lined up for a free kick late in Friday's playoff opener and begged for urgency. Great Oak's goalkeeper was glad her teammate was listening.
Makwinski's quick kick caught the Braves off-guard, the Craft-orchestrated backfield stymied Alta Loma's offense, and host Great Oak scored a 1-0 victory to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs for the first time in the program's history.
"We've always been stuck in this round," said Craft, whose team will move on to the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division II playoffs on Wednesday. "I feel like this year, getting past this will give us some momentum to keep going."
The Wolfpack (14-5-3) will have plenty of it, too, after dominating possession against the Baseline League's second-place team. Great Oak outshot Alta Loma 16-2 and played the majority of the game on the Braves' side of the field.
Still, Great Oak had nothing to show for it until Makwinski lined up for a free kick following an Alta Loma foul 30 yards away from the goal in the 59th minute.
Great Oak coach Alicia Brennan called on Makwinski to take the kick, and when the Wolfpack's halfback elected not to ask for 10 yards of space — a fact that escaped Braves keeper Charlee Pruitt as she organized the defense in front of the goal — Craft and sister Clarissa Makwinski begged for a quick kick.
It worked. Rachel Makwinski's hurried boot sailed over the line, off Pruitt's fingertips as she scrambled back into position and into the upper-left corner of the goal for the game's only score.
"They've been telling me all season: If I don't ask for 10 yards, then just kick it right away," Rachel Makwinski said. "I saw the opportunity and took it. ... She got a hand on it, but it went up and in."
Craft has been at the forefront of that strategy in practices throughout the season, and she saw a wide-open goal for Makwinksi from across the field.
"It's just one of my pet peeves," said Craft, who made one save in the game. "It just doesn't look very good when you're scored on like that. I've been trying to get all my free-kick takers to look for that."
Once they had the lead, the Wolfpack relied even more on a possession-oriented offense and an attacking defense — both of which dominated the Braves (13-6-6). Alta Loma didn't have a corner kick for the entire game (Great Oak had six) and didn't really threaten the Wolfpack goal until stoppage time in the second half after a foul from 25 yards out.
But Erica McMullen's free kick scooted wide left of the goal, and the Braves couldn't manage another scoring opportunity. The Wolfpack, meanwhile, breathed easy with a playoff win that came on the heels of losing the Southwestern League title to rival Temecula Valley.
"I don't know how many chances (the Braves) actually had," Brennan said. "If they would have put one in during those last two minutes, that would have been pretty devastating. But I had a lot of faith in my girls, and they work hard.
"They wanted this."