Sea Kings stay on top

IRVINE — Monica Venturini usually just crosses the ball for the Corona del Mar High girls' soccer team, giving a teammate a scoring opportunity.

On Thursday afternoon at Harvard Athletic Park, Venturini again had the ball at the top right side of the box.

This time, it was a shot, and the sophomore lofted it across the goal and into the net.

Venturini's first varsity goal helped the Sea Kings cross off an important Pacific Coast League victory, too, as they escaped with a 1-0 win over Beckman.

"I just thought I'd shoot it, since I always cross it," Venturini said of her left-footed strike in the 63rd minute. "I just kicked it as hard as I could. It went the exact amount that I needed it to."

Corona del Mar (10-2-4, 4-0-1 in league) stays in first place at the halfway point of league, a game ahead of Woodbridge (3-1-1 in league). Beckman (7-3-6, 3-2) falls into a tie for third place with Northwood.

CdM Coach Bryan Middleton was happy to escape Irvine with the win and the upper hand, as his team goes for its second league title in three years. Now, he just needs his side to get healthy.

Several Sea Kings are either sick or banged up. Before the game, everyone wanted the aspirin in the bag of senior Rachel Kerce.

"We have to get healthy," said Middleton, knowing it's probably still a couple weeks until he gets back senior sweeper Kaylee O'Connor or sophomore forward Emily Krebs (stress fractures). Junior Allyson Brahs, the team's leading scorer with 11 goals, is playing with a strained right knee.

Sophomore midfielder Maddie O'Connor and junior Sydney Raguse, playing sweeper in Kaylee O'Connor's absence, played through sickness Thursday.

The Sea Kings and Wake Forest-bound senior goalie Lindsey Luke (five saves) still looked fine on the pitch in posting their ninth shutout of the season. They've scored 33 goals this year and given up just eight.

Senior Hannah Rome, junior Amanda Stephenson and sophomore Alana Hunter also made significant defensive contributions.

"I just think we play well together," Raguse said. "We work hard and get back, and we talk a lot."

There was some talking to the other team as well. CdM's Raguse, Stephenson, Annie Alvarado and Karsten Sigband all play club soccer on Breakaway with Beckman sophomore Nikki Martino. She's the younger sister of Tawni Martino, now at Loyola Marymount, last year's CIF Southern Section Division II Player of the Year who helped lead the Patriots to the league title and the Division II title match.

Beckman is younger this year in general. The Patriots were fortunate at the start of the second half, when Venturini's initial goal off a cross from Alexa Mamatas was disallowed due to an offsides call.

But Beckman had a couple of chances to score, the best being on a long free kick that Luke had to leap to deflect off the post in the 43rd minute. The rebound went to Haley Ribiero, but her shot was high.

The ball was played into the box to Martino in the 62nd minute, but she couldn't get a clean shot off. Venturini did a minute later.

"In the second half they definitely had the advantage with the field conditions, with the wind at their back," Middleton said. "I thought possibly if we could control the midfield, we could get a counterattack on them. We got a few counterattacks on them, and that one paid off."

The Sea Kings worked to protect their lead. Middleton brought back Brahs to stay with Martino. He instructed forward Scarlett Acuna, a junior varsity call-up, to just dribble the ball near the corner flag to waste time.

Middleton wasn't going to take any chances with this game. He knows CdM will be challenged in the second half of league as well.

"We have Beckman the last game of the year at home, so that plays to our advantage," he said. "We do have three tough away games though, versus Woodbridge, [University] and Northwood. It's not an easy second half of league for us being away three games, and we have a finals week coming up."

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