Penalty kicks ruined Corona del Mar High in the first round of the CIF Southern Section boys' soccer playoffs last season.
Mud wasn't going to get in the way of the Sea Kings this time.
With heavy showers expected on Friday, the Sea Kings moved their Division 2 opener a day early. The decision also changed the site of the match, instead of playing at home, CdM played seven miles away at Jim Scott Stadium.
The Sea Kings were afraid their grass field wouldn't hold up with the wet conditions Friday.
As a team, and on a cool Thursday night, CdM more than held up.
Will O'Connor made his first appearance since breaking his right wrist last month, and he affected the contest right away.
The midfielder scored 11 minutes in, and the Sea Kings got past Capistrano Valley, 2-0, to advance to the second round.
The Sea Kings (14-3-5), ranked No. 8 in the final poll, were one of three programs in the division opting to start the postseason on Thursday. The next time they play will be on the road on Wednesday, at either No. 9 Katella or Moorpark. Katella (17-3-3) plays host to Moorpark (8-9-3) on Friday at 3 p.m.
The trip to the second round marks CdM's first since the 2013-14 season. The last time CdM made it this far, it lost to eventual Division 3 section champion Anaheim, 2-1, in overtime.
Overtime and penalty kicks haven't been kind to the Sea Kings in recent playoff appearances. They made sure to avoid those situations on Thursday.
O'Connor helped with his presence. He hasn't played much because of injuries, a groin kept him out for most of the nonleague portion of the season and his wrist forced him to miss the final six matches in the Pacific Coast League.
"Instant impact," CdM Coach George Larsen said of O'Connor. "It was great to get the [hard] cast off [him] and get him back on the field, and he didn't disappoint. He's played in seven games this year, and he's scored in six of them and assisted in the other one."
O'Connor fired away from the beginning. Goalkeeper Kevin Montes was able to dive to his right and knock away O'Connor's first blast, coming on a direct free kick from 30 yards out, two minutes into the contest.
Montes stood in the way of O'Connor again nine minutes later, right after Kyle Mabwa sent a through ball into the box. But Montes couldn't stop O'Connor from getting to the rebound. With the ball in the air, O'Connor headed in a shot toward the far post to give CdM a 1-0 lead.
"Sitting out for [six games], and watching and not being to do anything, it kind of lit a fire under me," said O'Connor, adding that while he was out of action he still practiced with the team to stay in shape.
The hard cast came off on Tuesday, and two days later, the Sea Kings looked like a different team with O'Connor.
The defense, playing without center back Andrea Pregoni, who's out of the country, turned in a strong performance. Matt Katz moved from the midfield to center back. David Stephenson, Brandon Cargile, Christopher Cruttenden and Brett Wirta played well on defense as well, making keeper Christopher Bartolic's life a lot easier.
Midway through the first half, CdM appeared on its way to taking a penalty kick. The Cougars took down Niko Urban in the box, and the main referee went toward the touchline to see if one of the assistant refs saw what happened. After a minute or so, the main ref blew the whistle to award the Sea Kings a penalty kick, but then he changed his mind, calling for a goal kick.
The Cougars (11-9-4) had a chance to even things up in the 33rd minute. Bartolic misplayed a ball near the top of the box. With a loose ball, Ethan Chong had a wide-open net, until Wirta kicked the ball away to the right and out of danger.
Montes wasn't so fortunate in the 39th minute.
Mabwa got away from a defender tugging at him in the box, and dribbled to the right, toward the endline, forcing Montes to protect the near post. Rather than take a shot, Mabwa sent the ball to his left, and Grant Joyce put it away, giving him his 17th goal on the season.
One minute remained in the first half, and CdM took a 2-0 lead. The difference from this playoff opener and last season's was the Sea Kings scored the first two goals this time around. They didn't have to come back as they did last season against Arroyo Grande, play two overtime periods, and then have penalty kicks decide their fate.
The Sea Kings easily kept their season alive. They have been unbeatable, going 9-0-3 in their last 12 affairs.
"From here, it only gets tougher," said Larsen, adding that he was happy to get the first-round match in on Thursday. "With the [Friday] forecast, it was going to be raining all day, so it was a great call to be able to get in an actual soccer game and not a mud bowl."