COSTA MESA — When St. John The Baptist School's first-year coach David Cortez needs to motivate his team of third- and fourth-grade girls, he just offers them tickets to Chivas USA games. That is a luxury a coach has when he works in the public relations department of one of the nation's most popular soccer teams. The strategy worked as his team earned a 4-0 victory over Our Lady Queen of Angels in the gold division of the 12th annual Daily Pilot Cup Wednesday night at the Costa Mesa Farm Sports Complex.
After tying with division favorite Andersen Tuesday, Cortez knew his team needed a win Wednesday to keep pace and perhaps earn a draw into the quarterfinals. They will watch to see what Andersen does Thursday, but Cortez is hopeful his team will be advancing.
The two teams battled for most of the first half, both defenses gaining the upper hand over the opposing offense. But the first goal happened quickly as Cortez's own daughter, Paulina Cortez, was the first to put the ball in the net.
As the coach said, "The first one is always the toughest, but after we got rolling, it seemed like we had what we needed."
The younger Cortez used her speed to gain the advantage over the defense while her teammate, Emma Warner, the tallest girl on the field, used her strength. And as though Warner's efforts were not enough to keep her in focus through the game, her bright pink cleats certainly did the trick.
"The other girls called me a giant, and I just said thank you," Warner said. But it was her effort that proved giant; as she scored two of her team's four goals.
Her first goal came off a beautiful pass from fourth-grader Olivia Stephens as she dribbled down the right side. Stephens threaded the ball past three OLQA defenders and Warner was in perfect position to poke the ball into the net. Warner's second goal was her sheer will, dribbling the ball through a stiff defense and sneaking the ball past the keeper.
Our Lady Queen of Angels fought the whole game despite facing down a growing deficit, taking multiple shots on goal, but thanks to Stephens and Warner and defender Allison OHeany, a third-grader, OLQA was unable to score.
The fourth goal came off the foot of LuLu Lee, the center forward who commanded the field through the game.
For St. John, its focus was a win and advancing in the tournament. Coach Cortez said he was proud of his players' ability to remain focused even with a lead.
"This was a tough game, they (Our Lady Queen of Angels) was a tough team. I just asked the girls to give 100% and play with no pressure. Just play a simple game."
His team did just that, but the pressure was there to earn those Chivas tickets, as a number of the girls told a reporter the only thing better than getting interviewed would be going to the Chivas game.
Our Lady Queen of Angels plays Andersen Thursday at 3:30 at the Costa Mesa Farm to determine the winner of pool A.