CORONA DEL MAR — The downpour Coach George Larsen expected Friday came at the right time at Corona del Mar High.
In the waning minutes, Larsen watched the rain wash out the season of Garey of Pomona. One goal was the difference in CdM slipping out of the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division III playoffs with a 1-0 victory.
Larsen said the Sea Kings had better get used to playing similar close matches. They are not the same dominant team that claimed the Division IV section title last season.
You could tell how much avoiding an early postseason exit meant to the Sea Kings by the way the players on the bench stormed onto the field to celebrate with the rest of their teammates in the rain. For much of the match, the players sat and stood underneath a canopy, trying to stay dry.
At least Larsen was prepared afterward. He walked out of the canopy and opened an umbrella before making his way toward midfield to high-five the opponents and shake Coach Juan Muneton's hand.
Larsen wore a big smile and with good reason. The Sea Kings (14-2-7) moved on to the second round and will face Santa Ana Valley (17-8-0) on Wednesday.
For qualifying, Larsen can thank junior Mason Case, who scored the match's lone goal, and the defense and junior goalkeeper Connor Gaal for recording the shutout.
Gaal played in his first match since sitting out the final two regular-season contests because he picked up two red cards. Gaal made a handful of saves against the third-place team out of the Mt. Baldy League.
Case, along with Jack Gorab, duped Garey (18-6-2) on a set piece in the 58th minute.
Brian Ford created the opportunity after the Vikings fouled the UC Davis-bound senior. Gorab quickly lined up to take a direct free kick from 10 yards out of the box and from the left.
Instead of taking a shot, the junior sent a pass on the ground to Mason, who ran on to the ball and struck the ball toward the far post, catching goalkeeper Cris Padilla and the Vikings' defense by surprise. Padilla tried to recover, only to slip and see the ball sneak into the back of the net.
The set piece was one Larsen said CdM worked on the day before in practice.
"It ended up bailing us out," Larsen said.
The Sea Kings need all the breaks to make a run at a second straight section title, especially after they lost standout returners in Jack McBean and Matt Francini to club commitments early in the season. To understand how talented McBean is, the 16-year-old went on to sign a professional contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Larsen said CdM has adjusted to the losses.
"A lot different feel obviously," Larsen said of the playoffs this time around. "Last year, we come in as the top seed in our division and this year we're a lower seed. We weren't [Friday], but we'll be the underdog in some of these games going forward. Last year, we knew we had the team that can match up with just about anybody. It was just, 'Can we do it?' This year, we're going to have to work a little bit harder and we're going to have to dig down.
"[Last season was] such a great experience and getting over the fact that every year is not going to be like that. You've got to take what you got and make the most of it with the group that you get. That's what high school is all about, things change year in and year out. I think we've come to terms with that better late in the season. We talked about it. It's about this group coming together, and not being so much result oriented or trying to compare ourselves to last season, but rather us being the best team we can be this year, and whatever happens, happens, so that's kind of what we've been preaching."