Pirates struggle to finish

COSTA MESA — The referee turned to the Orange Coast College sideline to say something to Coach Kevin Smith, who sat on the bench with his men's soccer team down one goal late.

"A minimum of three," the ref said.

"Three what?" someone asked on the bench.

The three was for the minutes left in the match on Tuesday.

In a matter of seconds, the three turned out to be the third goal Irvine Valley College put away to rally and beat the host Pirates, 3-1.

The Lasers scored at the start of stoppage time of the Orange Empire Conference match, which got away from OCC in the final 22 minutes.

The Pirates played against the wind in the second half, but it was Fredy Razo blowing them over.

Razo, who last year led the conference in goals, found the back of the net twice. He tied it up at 1-1 in the 68th minute and lifted up his jersey, not too high to cover his head.

Fourteen minutes later, the sophomore poked that head of his out.

Brandon Mulhall delivered a beautiful cross to a running Razo, who beat two defenders to the ball in the air and headed in the goal. The Lasers took a 2-1 lead and Razo jogged toward midfield, telling the Pirates, "Next game!"

Razo helped the Lasers stay unbeaten in conference play at 2-0-1.

The Pirates (5-4-0, 1-2-0 in conference) missed a chance to tie last season's conference win total. Three matches into conference play, they look much better than last year, which was Laird Hayes' 24th and final one as coach.

"We already [have one more overall win than] last year," said Kevin Smith, in his first year in charge at OCC. "We're disappointed today because … that's one of the top teams from our conference and we should've won."

When the final whistle blew, Smith found out that his Pirates outshot the Lasers, 20-10. As for scoring chances, OCC had 10, double the amount of the visitors.

The key was the Lasers put away their chances.

The difference was in the two strikers wearing No. 10 for their respective sides.

Razo was perfect in his two shots on goal.

The Pirates' Jose Rodriguez created more scoring chances, but none went past goalkeeper Diego Chacon.

The freshman struck one shot wide 15 minutes into the second half. Three minutes later, deep in the box, the former Estancia High standout tried to flick in a nice pass from Takuma Hori, but the ball went right to Chacon.

On a similar play, Hori and Rodriguez tried to hook up again on a goal. Chacon was ready and Rodriguez fell to the ground.

"We'd like to get him to finish those chances," Smith said of Rodriguez.

"In the first half, he was the best player on the field. They couldn't touch him."

Rodriguez showed his skills early, helping OCC take command 10 minutes in.

The Pirates got to a couple of rebounds and the second one went right to sophomore Antonio Gonzalez. The former Estancia player finished, giving OCC a 1-0 lead.

If the score remained that way at halftime, Coach Martin McGrogan said he felt confident in his team's ability to come back. The final 45 minutes the wind was going the Lasers' way and it led them to a victory.

"We were very fortunate," said McGrogan, who has prospered since he left the boys' soccer coaching post at Corona del Mar High in 1989 to become the Lasers' coach in 1990.

The Lasers have won one national title and two state titles under McGrogan. Only three times have his teams finished with a losing season.

This isn't going to be the fourth. He expects the Lasers, who are 6-2-2 overall, to challenge powerhouse Santa Ana, the defending conference champion.

The Pirates get their shot at Santa Ana Friday at 3 p.m.

"It doesn't get any easier," Smith said.

david.carrillo@latimes.com

Twitter: @dcpenaloza

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