For the second straight year, not one Orange County high school boys’ lacrosse team has figured out how to knock off Corona del Mar.
That did not deter San Clemente on Saturday from trying. The Tritons literally tried to take down the Sea Kings.
A couple of times, San Clemente’s Garrett Silverman laid out CdM’s Ryan Meckler. One time, Silverman caught Meckler around the neck, and Meckler had the marks to prove it afterward.
The hits kept coming, and Meckler and the Sea Kings were unfazed. They kept getting up, staying composed. That is not easy to do with so much at stake, a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the upcoming U.S. Lacrosse Southern Section South Division playoffs.
In a tightly contested game involving the two top-ranked teams in Orange County, Meckler created some distance between CdM and San Clemente midway through the fourth quarter.
What was a tied game with about 7½ minutes to play quickly turned in CdM’s favor. Meckler scored twice during a 5-1 run, as the Sea Kings won, 11-7, on a windy afternoon.
The Sea Kings (15-2) closed out the regular season with an emphatic fourth-quarter performance, most likely locking up the top seed in the South Division playoffs. They went into the contest ranked No. 1 in the county, and won’t find out until late Saturday night whether they earned the top seed.
“Frankly, I don’t see how it couldn’t [have clinched the top seed], [with us] beating the No. 2 [San Clemente], No. 3 [Foothill] and No. 4 [St. Margaret’s] ranked teams in the county, and No. 6 [Tesoro],” CdM Coach G.W. Mix said. “But stranger things have happened in Orange County.”
What has not happened to CdM is losing to a county program in its past 25 matchups.
The last time CdM suffered a setback to a county opponent was in its final game two years ago, coming in the semifinals of the playoffs. The loss to St. Margaret’s cost the Sea Kings a trip to the South Division final that year.
This year, the Sea Kings have shown they’re the favorites to repeat as the South Division champions.
The only two teams to down CdM this season are from San Diego County, Torrey Pines and La Costa Canyon. The Sea Kings won’t see them again.
The first round of the postseason starts Tuesday, with the quarterfinals on Thursday, the semifinals on Saturday, and the finals on May 10. The higher seed plays at home in the first two rounds, while the semifinals are at Portola High and the finals are at Irvine High.
As for what time the Sea Kings will play on Tuesday depends on whether the CdM girls’ lacrosse team opens its South Division tournament at home on the same day.
“The challenge for us is that our girls are pretty good,” said Mix, whose team will play at 3:15 or 5:15 p.m. on Tuesday.
Whichever time slot CdM gets, expect it to advance out of the first round.
The Sea Kings are ready to make another deep run, in hopes of reaching the U.S. Lacrosse Southern Section finale, which they dropped last year to Los Angeles Loyola, the North Division champion.
Before the playoffs begin, San Clemente (12-6) battled CdM for 3½ quarters. The contest was tight, as it was even four times. Both goalies, CdM’s Kyle Cord and San Clemente’s Harrison Webb, made big-time saves.
The Sea Kings tried to pull away 35 seconds into the fourth quarter. Eric Fries scored his first of two goals in the quarter. Nick Puglia, after winning one of his 15 faceoffs, recorded a goal, to put CdM ahead, 6-3.
Then San Clemente responded with three straight goals, knotting things up at 6-6 with 7:27 left. Liam Nelson produced two of the goals, giving him three, and David Howren found the back of the net.
It didn’t take long for CdM to go back in front. Eight seconds after Puglia won the faceoff, Kenan Ressler scored to give the Sea Kings a 7-6 lead.
The advantage grew to two on Meckler’s first goal. Meckler, who added four ground balls, finally put one away before Silverman hit him hard again, pushing his stick right into Meckler’s stomach.
“It actually got me going more,” said Meckler, who scored his second goal with 61 seconds to go. “Every tough opponent we play tries to [intimidate] us, but that doesn’t really work with us.”
The Tritons’ physical play kept them in it. At halftime, the game was tied at 2-2.
Will Favreau led CdM in the second half. He scored all of his three goals in the final 24 minutes. The first came on the man-up advantage midway through the third quarter, tying it at 3-3.
The Sea Kings and Tritons could see each other again in the South Division playoffs. San Clemente goes into the postseason having lost two of its final four games. The other loss came at Loyola by the same 11-7 score.
As for who is the better team, CdM or Loyola, San Clemente Coach Brendan Finnerty said the Cubs.
“Their faceoff guy [Aidan Hesse] is an absolute stud, and their offense plays fast, their defense is big and physical,” said Finnerty, who easily could say many of the same things about the Sea Kings.