Spend more than 20 minutes watching a North soccer game and one will inevitably hear what has become one of the program mantras over the years. Coach Danny Valdez will holler it multiple times a night: “Win the ball, go get it! … win the ball!!!”

Really very simple, because often the more aggressive side will eventually prevail, possession being the key that comes from controlling the 50-50s. And Tuesday on the road at Vela, their backs against the wall with three starters missing, the Lady Cougars were the more energetic and assertive squad. They held the high-scoring Lady SaberCats without a goal until the last 14 minutes of a 3-1 victory, thwarting many positive and promising developments with plain old hustle on defense and after 50-50 balls.

Oh yes, there was also a super clutch hat trick from a senior whose time to shine arrived Tuesday, and the explosion from fast-booted Vanessa Cuevas turned a probable penalty kick session into a huge Lady Coog result. It placed Valdez’ team four points ahead of Vela and right in the thick of the first-place scrum with P-SJ-A Memorial.

“See what you can do when you put your mind to it?” Valdez told his happy girls after bang-bang Cuevas goals on the counter in the last two minutes sealed the deal. “Some of you got tired tonight and you need to work harder. When you think you can’t do anything more, push yourself more.”

This means a 2018 sweep for North over Vela, and the second one was nearly as wild as the first, when the Lady Coogs prevailed in PKs at home Jan. 26. Cuevas gave the side a 1-0 lead at the break and then the Lady SaberCats came calling. But every time they got close, someone was there to jump in and clear, or win a ball in the midfield. And with team leader Elvira Torres controlling her usual share of the play on the pitch, North was able to regain possession after each failed Vela attempt, and come back up the field. Vanessa Ricardez led another masterful defensive effort on Vela igniter Taylor Campbell, and a hobbled Ayssa Arevalo was unable to dent the North defense.

But just when it looked all Northy, Vela struck, as Allison Torres bombed one in to equalize at 14:02. From there the Lady Sabes felt like they had the buzz: Dayana Cantu came close at 6:26, Campbell returned to the fray after a yellow card endured earlier in the half, and the home girls pressed hard, to no avail.

Then, with Torres of North sending a couple of terrific long balls into the attacking third in the final ticks, all it took was the excellence of Cuevas to finish it. She fought through a hot mess in front of goal to jar the ball loose from the keeper and slot it home, at 1:49. Then, a stunned Vela watched as Cuevas ran under an absolute rocket from Torres and zoomed in for the death blow at 0:49.

“We have a tendency to get down sometimes, hang our heads, but it doesn’t last long,” said Cuevas, speaking of the late goal by Vela. “I was just able to use my speed to make something happen, my speed has always helped me when I need it.”

After the thrilling and pivotal triumph, Valdez noted that Torres, aside from being a special-skilled player who routinely does the very difficult with ease, has become a real team leader these days.

“She is one of our best players obviously and the thing is, the girls all look to her,” he commented. “They look to her for guidance out there and that is something that helps the team be more successful.”

The coach said that the first loss of the district season, Feb. 16 to P-SJ-A, was demoralizing but galvanizing.

“Yes, it was a shock to us, and were down about it,” he admitted. “But you know what? They came back, they had a great hard workout yesterday and they were ready for this game. We told them coming in that if we do what we are supposed to, we’ll beat them again.”

From the money moments for Cuevas to the superb defensive job from mid to back, and with Torres and her calm, collected force, the Lady Coogs proved that they belong right at the top of the charts. And of course, they consistently fulfilled the old motto once again. They won the ball, way more than not.

NOTES: The Lady Bobcats got through a clash with Econ out east Tuesday, 2-1 after a second-half winner from freshman Leah Sanchez. Debhani Rodriguez fired in a first-half score to match Olga Ramirez of Econ.

On the boys’ side, North continued a surge with its second result in a row, 3-1 against Vela, while Econ blasted through in PKs to subdue EHS Tuesday.