A three-match losing streak came to an end with an explanation point in the form of a dogpile for the Corona del Mar High boys’ soccer team.
Facing Los Alamitos for the second night in a row, the Sea Kings reversed their fortunes in a match to determine the Surf League’s final automatic berth into the CIF Southern Section playoffs.
Nik Darrough made nine saves, and CdM shut out Los Alamitos 1-0 on Thursday in a second-place tiebreaker playoff contest at Huntington Beach High.
The day before, the Sea Kings had been unable to clinch a Division 1 playoff berth when Nick Hodge scored on a deep free kick from goalkeeper CJ Pycior to give the visiting Griffins a 2-1 overtime victory.
“I just know the only stat that really matters is the 1-0 [result],” Darrough said. “Getting through to CIF is something that we’ve been trying to do this whole year.
“All the hours of practice really led up to those last 10 minutes, hold the fort down, and we did it.”
Darrough said he experienced a feeling of relief when the final whistle blew.
As for the dogpile, he said, “The moment I hit the floor, I knew it was coming.”
On Thursday, Sea Kings coach Damien O’Brien ventured down to the defensive third of the field to start the second half and never left.
His instincts seemed to be correct, as the match ended with the Sea Kings (11-7) scrambling on defense in the final minutes. Darrough made six saves in the second half.
A shot by Kevin de Ramos also hit the left post in the second minute of stoppage time.
“I didn’t move from that spot because we’ve conceded so many late goals, and like the last five minutes was just pinball soccer in our box,” O’Brien said. “I’m happy that we finished it out, but it was not pretty. I thought we just threw away all of our quality, and it was just all passion for the last seven or eight minutes.”
Center backs Zane Weaver and Carson Webb each had a clearance off the goal line. Weaver’s came in the 14th minute, when Pycior bounced a 50-yard free kick off the inside part of the right post.
In the 80th minute, Webb headed the ball off the line and dribbled it out of trouble after it had been headed behind Darrough.
“We fought hard this entire game, this entire season,” Webb said. “Four minutes left, I see two guys coming up, [and] you have to put everything on the line for it. There’s nothing [else] you can do. You’re not just going to let them score.
“We worked way too hard to get here. We got unlucky way too much. We put it away today. I’m proud of us.”
Will Little scored the Sea Kings’ goal in the 27th minute, using a stop-and-go move to accelerate past his defender in the right corner before sending a shot into the net from a sharp angle.
“[Left forward] Hassan Selim, he has been blowing by people the past five games in league,” Little said. “I’ve learned a lot from him, using a bunch of his moves and stuff.”
The Sea Kings won their first three matches in league play, only to drop the next three. Two of those defeats came in overtime. Little admitted that Wednesday’s loss to the Griffins (8-7-5) had been a demoralizing one, but CdM put its best foot forward in the second-place tiebreaker match.
“We knew that this was our chance,” Little said. “We had shown that we could beat these teams before, and we knew we could beat Los Al. We just put it all on the line today, and we did our best and we won. We deserved it.”
Throughout the season, CdM had employed a rotation at goalkeeper. Wally Korbler would play one half, and Darrough would play the other.
O’Brien was impressed with Korbler’s selflessness in making the decision to let Darrough play the whole match.
“He was so [professional] about it,” O’Brien said. “He just said, ‘Yeah, I agree. The team should leave Nik in for the whole game today because he has the height [at 6-foot-2], and he deals better with the crosses.’
“For me, hearing that from one of the kids that wants to play, and giving up a spot like that when he knows that it is better for the team is really impressive. It shows good character.”
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