COSTA MESA — Orange Coast College women's soccer coach Kevin Smith believes the tangible difference between his Pirates and the top teams in the state may be equal to the miniscule separation between a tie and a loss in Tuesday's Orange Empire Conference setback to visiting Cypress.
In other words, about four inches.
The estimated four-inch width of the crossbar was all that kept OCC (9-5-2, 8-3-1 in conference) away from drawing even with the Chargers (13-1-3, 9-1-2), who held on for a 1-0 triumph. The victory helps Cypress build a four-point advantage in the standings (three points awarded for a win and one for a tie) over the third-place Pirates.
OCC, with four conference matches, faces an uphill battle to match Cypress and first-place Santiago Canyon in the final standings.
OCC sophomore scoring leader Taryn Bales ripped a left-footed blast from the top of the 18-yard box that clearly had Cypress goalkeeper Chelsea Broghamer beat. But the ball sailed flush onto the front of the crossbar and caromed back toward the field in the 73rd minute.
The near-miss, which generated a collective sigh from the OCC players, coaches and fans, was the best scoring chance for the Pirates, who finished with four shots.
Cypress' best chance among its six shots produced a different result, as freshman forward Kayla Arenas banged in a flick header from freshman Chelsea Braudo for the game-winner in the 51st minute.
"I thought it was a pretty even game," Smith said. "I think they finished their good chance and we hit the crossbar on our good chance. That's one of the top teams in the state and think we definitely played with them. I'm not going to say we definitely deserved to win, but I don't think we deserved to lose today."
Despite the loss, Smith said his team, which saw its five-game unbeaten streak snapped, continues to give merit to its quest for a postseason berth.
"It's complicated," Smith said of the method by which teams are granted regional playoff berths. "It's like a BCS-type formula called power points. A lot of it has to do with the records of the teams you've played, the results of those teams and other factors. As it stands today, it looks like we have a good chance to be in the playoffs. But we have four games left and we have to get some results in those games for sure."
Smith had more praise for his defense than his offense Tuesday.
"I think our defense has really kind of shored up in the last five or six games," Smith said. "We had Jessica Parker [a freshman defender] come back from injury and her return has helped solidify our defense. We've been stingy, as far as giving up goals.
"But, we've got to be able to score goals. A team like [Cypress] is going to score a goal a game. We've got to be able to score one or two ourselves."
Sophomores Kallie Ryker and Emily Mizrahi both contributed to OCC's shot total, which Cypress bettered by two.
Smith also singled out sophomore center midfielder Kayla Albin, sophomore midfielder Sarah Warner and sophomore defender Chelsea Hilliard for their strong play.
OCC goalie Megan Thomson had three saves, one more than Broghamer, who recorded her first shutout.
It was the fourth straight win for the Chargers, who have outscored teams, 10-3, during that stretch.
Smith, a former standout at UC Irvine, wasn't about to place the blame on the crossbar.
"I played this game a long time and I think it all evens out in the end," Smith said of the ill-fated carom. "For every ball that hits the crossbar, there is another that hits underneath and spins in."
The loss was OCC's second to Cypress this season. In their first meeting, OCC pulled even in the 87th minute, only to have Cypress net the game-winner in the 89th minute for a 2-1 triumph.