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Newport Harbor girls’ soccer shut out by Pacifica

Newport Harbor's team gathers following a loss to Pacifica in the  CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs on Friday.
Newport Harbor’s team gathers following a loss to Pacifica in the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs on Friday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Through 51 minutes of a CIF Southern Section second-round girls’ soccer match between Newport Harbor High School and Pacifica, both defenses had held strong against opposition attacks.

But then a misplaced pass back for the Sailors led to a clearance by goalkeeper Jessica Gardner that hung up in the windy Costa Mesa sky.

The ball dropped into an open space for Pacifica to knock a ball forward behind the Sailors’ back line, sending Natalie Oca in on goal.

The Pacifica freshman struck a shot on her first touch that soared over Gardner’s head before dipping underneath the crossbar and into the net.

“That’s the game of soccer,” Newport Harbor head coach Justin Schroeder said. “They capitalized on one of our mistakes. I think we’re evenly-matched teams. It could have gone either way.”

In a game of fine margins, Newport Harbor was edged out of the playoffs by Pacifica 1-0 at Estancia High School on Friday afternoon.

After a season that nearly never was, the Wave League champion Sailors had a lot they were proud of despite the season-ending loss.

“It was a good year for us,” Schroeder said. “I’m sad that we’re not going to be training together next week. Would have liked to go a bit further, but at the same time, these kids battled.”

Newport Harbor's Alyssa Sims goes up for a header against Pacifica's Serena Brito, left, and Natalie Oca on Friday.
Newport Harbor’s Alyssa Sims goes up for a header against Pacifica’s Serena Brito, left, and Natalie Oca on Friday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Newport Harbor (10-3-4) had a chance to open the scoring in the 17th minute. A corner kick led to a scramble in the box for a loose ball, but Alyssa Sims’ shot from close range went over the crossbar.

The Sailors continued to press through the right side, using senior Kenna Robar to run down long balls and attack the Mariners’ defense. She came the closest to scoring in the second half, as Newport Harbor sent balls forward in hopes for an equalizer.

In the 48th minute, Brielle Benedict turned to her left foot to create a chance, but her shot from just outside of the 18-yard box skimmed the top of the crossbar, going out for a goal kick.

It was one of the few instances that the Sailors chose to take a deeper shot toward goal, something that the forwards and midfielders for Pacifica (13-2-1) consistently attempted throughout the game.

As the final minutes ticked away, Pacifica locked down while coming close on several occasions on the counterattack, but its efforts were halted by the Sailors’ defense and their senior goalkeeper, Gardner.

Newport Harbor had eight seniors on its roster, most of whom are four-year varsity players.

Newport Harbor's Laine Briggs battles for a ball against Pacifica's Lizbeth De Loera in a Division 1 playoff game on Friday.
Newport Harbor’s Laine Briggs battles for a ball against Pacifica’s Lizbeth De Loera.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“They’ve been through the whole kind of genesis of the program,” Schroeder said. “These seniors have really provided a positive culture going forward. That’s what we’re really going to miss.”

The Newport Harbor defense, which had only allowed three goals in league play, was anchored by a senior center back pairing of Jenna McConnaughey and Samara Golan.

The pair made stop after stop, never allowing the Pacifica attack to break into the penalty area for any clear-cut chances over the 80 minutes of play.

“I could not ask for better teammates,” Golan said. “I love this game, but I wouldn’t do it without the players. They keep me going.”

Getting to compete in their senior seasons amid the COVID-19 pandemic meant everything for the outgoing players.

“I’m never going to take a game or practice for granted ever again,” said Golan, who was holding back tears. “Getting a season in our senior year, we’re so lucky.”

Newport Harbor's Stella Gaffney walks away as Pacifica celebrates a goal in a CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoff game.
Newport Harbor’s Stella Gaffney walks away as Pacifica celebrates a goal.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

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