The playoffs got off to an inauspicious beginning Tuesday for the Corona del Mar High boys' lacrosse team at home.
Less than a minute into their U.S. Lacrosse Southern Section South Division opener against No. 12-seeded Santiago, the No. 5 Sea Kings found themselves down by two goals. The Sharks' Gabe Benso scored twice early, assisted by Ryan Richardson each time.
"It was a little uncomfortable, to say the least," CdM coach G.W. Mix said. "First and foremost, it was one of those moments that we had to face and respond, and our kids did a great job of that."
The Sea Kings would not allow another goal in the first half on their way to an 18-6 victory.
Senior attack Eric Fries and sophomore attack Chandler Fincher each scored four goals for CdM (10-9), which will play at No. 4 Santa Margarita (13-5) in a quarterfinal game Thursday.
The Sea Kings have made the semifinals in seven of the last eight years under Mix, who's in his ninth year in charge. Now they're a game away from doing so again.
Fries, who said he returned recently from his second strained hamstring of the season, was aggressive early. The team captain had two goals and three assists in the first quarter, which ended with the Sea Kings up 7-2.
"I've missed games every single year of high school due to injury," Fries said. "When I got hurt my senior year, it was pretty disheartening. Being able to be healthy again right in time for playoffs is amazing. Being aggressive is the way I like to play, so having all of that energy, I was able to let it go in this game."
Sophomore Aidan Kelly had three goals for CdM, which built its lead to 13-2 midway through the third quarter before Santiago could score again. Senior Josiah Batcheller, who was successful on faceoffs throughout the game, also finished with a team-best six ground balls. Fincher, George Busick and Tate Jackson each secured two ground balls, while junior goalkeeper Kyle Cord made eight saves.
Santiago coach Keith Parr said his team was making its third straight playoff appearance, and the Sharks' No. 12 playoff seeding was the best in program history. But the Sharks (16-6) were unable to build on their early lead.
"We came out ready to go," Parr said. "I thought we matched up well with these guys athletically … but after that, man, we gave up a couple of easy goals. We lost the momentum, and we never got it back. They kept pressing us. They're a very well-coached team; you can tell."
Devon Linkon, Blaine Nelsen, Bobby Purcifull, John Bethel, Jake Elisius, Tanner Beasy and Simon Hall scored one goal each for the Sea Kings, who were able to empty their bench in the fourth quarter with the game being played with a running clock.
Injuries and inexperience have taken their toll on the Sea Kings this season, but Mix again has his team ready for what the players hope is an extended playoff run.
"After all we've been through as a team this year, to have an opportunity to play for a chance to get back to the semifinals is pretty remarkable," Mix said. "I'm just so proud of the kids, that they've fought hard to put us back into a good position. We're looking forward to it, regardless of who it is, where it is and when it is."