TUSTIN — They came back to the place where it all started, the crazy four straight wins that propelled the Corona del Mar High girls' soccer team to its fourth straight Pacific Coast League title and the CIF Southern Section Division 1 quarterfinals.
Tustin High felt different than it did 17 days earlier, when CdM beat Beckman to start the run. On Friday night an umbrella was needed. The rain was on again, off again, and heavy at times.
The result also was different. It didn't go the Sea Kings' way. Foothill sophomore forward Sarah Moss scored in the 66th minute and the No. 3-seeded Knights hung on for a 1-0 quarterfinal victory, ending CdM's season.
The Sea Kings have advanced to the CIF quarterfinals six times in Coach Bryan Middleton's 12-year tenure, but never further. They were denied their first CIF semifinal appearance since 2001-02, in Division 4.
There wasn't a dry eye among the CdM players after the game. But what they might remember more is dancing to a country song at halftime. They huddled at the 50-yard line and danced to "Country Girl (Shake it for Me)" by Luke Bryan, umbrellas up, sharing a team bonding moment.
"We're just a fun team this year," senior forward Sabrina Roy said. "We all get along. It's not super-stressful ... I couldn't have asked for a better team. Our last three games were insane. I'm going to remember them forever. They were epic."
After beating Beckman, 2-1, when a Patriots penalty kick went over the cage, the Sea Kings rallied for three goals in the final 20 minutes to win at Northwood, 3-2, for the league title. In their first two playoff games, they beat Fountain Valley and Upland, each time in a shootout.
Friday's game looked like it might be heading for one too, although the Century League champion Knights (16-4-6) put a lot of pressure on CdM (13-6-4) to start the second half. The Sea Kings also did get chances, though. The best came in the 55th minute, when junior Birkley Sigband executed a give-and-go with freshman Leah Givant. But no one could score Sigband's cross from the left side of the box.
The Knights kept the pressure on. Nine minutes later junior center back Brianna Westrup was taken down just outside of the box. Her mother Anita, obviously concerned, came down into the front of the stands to check on her daughter.
Westrup stayed in the game and continued her standout play, saving the Sea Kings numerous times with her clearances out of the box. Earlier in the half, she and sophomore Allie Doherty each blocked point-blank shots in the box, back to back.
The Sea Kings were playing short-handed on defense as freshman Christina Venturini missed the game after suffering a concussion against Upland. Venturini's replacement, junior Tori English, also suffered a head injury in the first half of Friday's game and did not return. Middleton put senior forward Miranda Stiver in the back to help out.
But Foothill got its goal after earning a free kick from 40 yards out, near its own sideline. Senior Kristen Reeves took the kick, which bounced around the box before Moss stuck it in. CdM wanted an offside call but didn't get it. Westrup, who was trying to move the defense up prior to the kick, said after the game that the referee told her that CdM still had a player on the goal line.
"Corona del Mar gave us a lot of free space in the middle of the field there, on free kicks," Foothill Coach Steve Patterson said. "We're pretty good on set plays; it's one of the things we feel we're pretty strong at. We said at halftime, we just had try to drive the ball into those spaces a little bit harder and crash the box with a little bit more runners, and have some players in the back space. Fortunately, the ball bounced into that back-door space, and Sarah was there and knocked it in."
Patterson said that prior to this year, the Knights hadn't advanced past the first round of CIF since 1997. Now they're two games away from the title. They'll play at Edison, a 3-0 upset winner over. No. 2-seeded Aliso Niguel, in the Division 1 semifinals on Tuesday.
CdM tried to get the equalizer at the end. Roy was taken down 45 yards out, and Westrup served up a ball near the top of the box. Caroline Bethel headed it back toward the goal, but the Sea Kings couldn't get a shot off moments before the final whistle blew.
The rain had stopped, and so had the Sea Kings' season, though not without plenty of memories. It was a good way to go out for the senior class of Stiver, Roy, senior keeper Kendall Mulvaney, defender Molly Keasey, Jayden Smith and Makena Look.
"This one game doesn't define our season," Middleton said. "These seniors have won four straight Pacific Coast League titles outright, and that's the first group that's ever done that at Corona del Mar High School. Besides that, the girls bounded as a team this year, as a family. The last few weeks have just been amazing, those games that they played and came through. It just didn't happen for us tonight, but this season will have lasting memories in all these girls' lives."
Westrup agreed with her coach, saying that the run in the past three weeks has been the most fun she has had in high school soccer.
"We were playing for the seniors, we were playing for everyone working hard on the field," she said. "That's really what high school is about, representing your school in that way and bonding with other girls ... I think it said a lot about our team that we could take the game seriously, but still have a great time with one another."