Getting the chance to participate in the 2012 CIF Southern Section boys' soccer playoffs, Laguna Beach took full advantage of the opportunity by putting its best foot forward Tuesday at El Segundo.
The Breakers, an at-large entry in the Division 4 playoffs, won the wild-card game, 2-1.
Senior forward Reece Barton and freshman midfielder Harrison Gregory scored goals for the Breakers, who improved to 9-6-3 and advanced to face Crescenta Valley in a first-round game Thursday. The score wasn't available at press time.
"I couldn't be happier with the way the boys applied themselves in the game," Laguna Coach Daniel Richards said. "There is a great team spirit among the lads and they worked extremely hard for each other."
Laguna scored the winning goal in the second half, where its defense shut out the Eagles (7-8-4), who were the third-place team from the Pioneer League.
"Going into the second half, we knew we would be able to create more chances and just needed to settle down a little bit to get our opportunity," Richards said.
Barton converted a cross under pressure from El Segundo defenders to post a first-half goal. The Eagles responded by scoring just before halftime to tie the score. Gregory scored the game-winner on a strike from just inside the box. Richards said that Gregory showed "great composure and technique," on the play.
"The way the upper classmen have welcomed and guided all the new young players onto the team has been great to see," Richards said. "It's no surprise that our first to goals in the playoffs have come from a third-year returning varsity player (Barton), and then a freshman (Gregory). This ability to incorporate old and new players is one if the team's biggest strengths."
A week after winning the first league championship in program history, Laguna Beach ventures into postseason play Friday with a 3 p.m. Division 4 home game at Guyer Field against Santa Monica.
Laguna is making its third postseason appearance in the last four years. The Breakers carry a 14-game unbeaten streak into their meeting with the Vikings, who are the No. 3 team from the tough Ocean League.
"It's a tough first-round match up and we will be tested big-time," Laguna Coach Bill Rolfing said. "But our girls are tough. Our attitude is that we've faced a lot of adversity all year long in league play, in tough scheduling, and with injuries. This is just one of those big games for us."
Laguna, which has given up only five goals in its last 14 matches and is 10-6-6 overall, lost two key players last week, including starting goalie Kylie George. Rolfing said the freshman broke the pinkie on her right hand — now set in a cast — during practice Feb. 10.
In an Orange Coast League win over Godinez on Feb. 6, Rolfing said that sophomore Emma Barker suffered a severe ankle sprain and is in a walking boot.
Also out is freshman Audrey Pillsbury, who works the middle of the field with senior co-captain Marina Paul. Rolfing said that Pillsbury has "re-sprained" her ankle and likely will be on the bench for Friday's game.
The Breakers previously lost sophomore forward Johana Abarca to a torn ACL earlier this season.
Rolfing said that Yasmin Asghari, up from the junior varsity team, will replace George in the net. The junior worked the cage in place of George earlier in the season when the Breakers picked up a 2-0 win at Ocean View. Asghari had four saves in the shutout.
"Unfortunately, we are without some key players, but it is what it is," Rolfing said. "We have a defense that has been very stingy and it is healthy coming into Friday's game. The great thing is that we have a good bench that is disciplined. The girls are working hard in practice and will be ready for Friday."
Rolfing said that Santa Monica (12-5-3) missed out on winning the Ocean League title in the final week of the regular season. The Vikings have won nine of the last 10 league titles.
During the season, the Vikings have either defeated (No. 4 Torrance) or tied (No. 2 Marymount, No. 7 Beverly Hills, No. 8 Valley Christian) teams that reside in the Division 4 Top 10 poll.
The winner of Friday's game advances to the second round Wednesday to face the winner of South Torrance and Immaculate Heart.