It figured that in a season filled with balance and parity that the hottest teams would be the ones to reach the Southern Section Division I final.
Many county coaches agreed that any of the eight quarterfinalists could have won the Division I title this season, and second-seeded Irvine (25-3) and unseeded Foothill (21-7) are the peaking teams that will play Wednesday night at 8 at Belmont Plaza in Long Beach for the championship.
But Irvine barely reached the final, needing overtime to defeat El Toro, 7-6.
El Toro developed a penchant for pulling out close games down the stretch. The Chargers won the South Coast League title by edging Capistrano Valley by a goal, coming on a mid-pool shot by Ke’ala Carter.
El Toro also eliminated third-seeded Marina in the quarterfinals with a one-goal victory, and Carter and Stephenie Hand helped the Chargers move into a position to advance to the finals against Irvine.
“We were in trouble,” Irvine Coach Scott Hinman said. “But we hung in there. Sarah Hamilton had a big goal to pull us even in the third quarter and Nicole Lorrimer pulled us even again in the fourth.”
El Toro grabbed the lead in overtime again, but with one minute remaining in the extra period, Lindsay Stephens scored her third goal on a skip shot from eight meters to tie it at 6-6. Then Kristi Riedel scored the game-winner from seven meters with 24 seconds remaining.
“We were tentative with our outside shooting early,” Hinman said. “Then we get two in one minute from outside. But then again, when you’re down and there’s only a minute left, then. . . . “
DIVISION I PREVIEW
Foothill reached the final in a more convincing fashion, using an inspired performance to topple top-seeded Esperanza, 9-5.
The Knights were firing on all cylinders, getting goals from their six starting field players and a top-notch effort from freshman goalie Emily Feher. Senior Jackie Pirro scored three goals to lead the Knights’ offense.
“It’s going to be a wide-open game,” Hinman said. “Both teams are balanced. They counter real well, we can swim well. It’s a very interesting matchup.”
The teams met twice earlier this season and each team won once. Irvine won the last meeting in a consolation game at the Southern California Championships.
“This may come down to who can control the inside game and which team will be forced to drop and give up the outside shots,” Hinman said. “It could be one of those games where some kid is the hero that normally isn’t.”
DIVISION IV PREVIEW
Santa Margarita finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in Orange County, and the top-seeded Eagles (23-6) advanced to meet unseeded Corona del Mar (20-11) in the Division IV final Wednesday at 3 p.m. at Belmont Plaza.
Although the freelance entry Eagles are the heavy favorites, Santa Margarita Coach Scott Taylor knew he would probably have to go through the Pacific Coast League to win the title.
Santa Margarita defeated fourth-seeded University, 8-3, in Friday’s semifinals. University shared the Pacific Coast title with Laguna Beach and Corona del Mar.
Freshmen Danielle Carlson and Christina Hewko played key roles last week for Corona del Mar, which scored one-goal victories over third-seeded Rosary and Santa Monica.