COSTA MESA — A bunch of third- and fourth-graders from Whittier Elementary School weren't so much worried about winning. The boys wanted to know how many goals they needed to win by on Wednesday to keep their quarterfinal hopes alive.
"Four!" Coach Danny Gonzalez told his players before they played their second match at the 14th annual Daily Pilot Cup soccer tournament.
Whittier's gold division opener the day before put it in a precarious situation. The team's 5-1 setback to Pegasus in pool-play action forced Whittier to play catch up on Wednesday.
Whittier fell short of the four-goal victory, beating Paularino, 3-0, at the Jack Hammett Sports Complex.
"We keep on playing?" players repeatedly asked.
"We don't know yet," Gonzalez answered them. "It depends on points."
After two pool-play matches, Whittier sits atop the F pool with 11 points, but the team that beat Whittier on Tuesday has nine points with a match on Friday. And the team Pegasus faces Friday at 5:30 p.m. is Paularino.
Pegasus is expected to prevail against Paularino and claim the F pool, while Whittier is hoping to earn the division's lone wild-card berth into the quarterfinals.
"How do we qualify?" players asked.
Patrick DeVusser, a fourth-grade teacher at Whittier and the school's liaison during the six-day tournament, broke it down for the kids.
"We have two more days of other teams playing," DeVusser said. "All of the games that are played [Tuesday] through Friday are pool play and teams earn pool points, and the highest one in each pool moves forward to the quarters. There's also a wild-card in each of the divisions, which means that one of the teams that finished second [in a pool] but accumulated the most points, [it gets] the wild card and would go to the quarterfinals as well."
Whittier will play the waiting game.
Gonzalez said he was happy with the result. His team bounced back by posting a shutout, with the help of goalkeeper Christian Adame.
Whittier came out aggressive against Paularino, creating eight scoring chances in the first half. Playing with a sense of urgency allowed Whittier to dominate possession.
It seemed everyone on the team, from Alex Martinez, to Juan Carlos Sanchez, to Anthony Hernandez, to Ivan Sanchez, came close to recording goals in the first half. By halftime, the match was scoreless, much of it because of the play by Paularino defender Laurencio Andres and keeper Marco Pellitteri. The two foiled a handful of scoring chances.
Three minutes into the second half, Martinez found the back of the net for Whittier. He controlled the ball inside the box and unleashed a shot toward the right.
Whittier continued to attack. Six minutes later, Ivan Sanchez saw his shot hit the right post.
Then in the 40th minute, Martinez sent a cross to Adame, who finished the play with a goal. Not much time was left when Sanchez scored, just three minutes in the 50-minute match.
Whittier earned a corner kick, one last chance to get that fourth goal, but Paularino slowed the match down with substitutions.
Right after Jonathan Trujillo made a save on the corner kick, the referee blew the whistle, signaling the end of the match. Gonzalez hopes it doesn't mark the end for his team.