Sea Kings stay on top

COSTA MESA — Instead of the usual hand-slaps after the game, a few of the Corona del Mar High and Beckman girls' soccer players exchanged hugs after Tuesday night's Pacific Coast League match.

They had good reason. Four CdM players — senior defenders Amanda Stephenson and Sydney Raguse and junior midfielders Annie Alvarado and Karsten Sigband — play club soccer for Breakaway. Patriots juniors Nikki Martino, Natalie Rockwell and Kori Decker also play for the club.

Decker is the starting goalie for Beckman. She was the one at whom her club teammates, among other Sea Kings, peppered shots during Tuesday night's contest at Jim Scott Stadium.

Decker kept her team in it with 10 saves. CdM still earned the 1-0 win, as Alexa Mamatas' rebound goal in the 27th minute helped the Sea Kings stay undefeated in league.

Halfway through league play, CdM (16-1-1, 5-0 in league) is alone in first. The Sea Kings, ranked No. 2 in CIF Southern Section Division I, are seeking their second straight outright title.

"We were pretty confident, because we've been winning a lot, but we know we can't mess around with Beckman," CdM junior forward Maddie O'Connor said. "They've always been really tough competition, and we know they really want to beat us. We just had to come out our hardest; we knew they were going to come out their hardest."

Nobody can seem to beat CdM, ranked No. 9 nationally by ESPNHS. Tuesday's win was the Sea Kings' 13th in a row. In that stretch, they've outscored opponents 30-1.

The victory over Beckman also marked the Sea Kings' 13th shutout of the season. They've allowed six goals all year behind a defense of Stephenson (George Mason), Raguse (Michigan), junior right back Alana Hunter and sophomore stopper Molly Keasey, plus goalies Sarah Cox (Stanford) and Kendall Mulvaney.

"We're just solid," said Alvarado, a UCLA commit. "[Raguse and Stephenson] play together in club, so they're used to each other. But Molly Keasey and Alana Hunter have mended really well with our formation."

The CdM home game was played at Estancia because CdM Coach Bryan Middleton said the CdM field isn't in great shape. The turf benefited the Sea Kings, as they dominated time of possession.

"Turf is definitely the best field for us," Alvarado said. "We like to keep it on the ground."

Alvarado was taken down on the right side in the first half, setting up CdM's goal. Sigband's free kick from about 10 yards out went to the goal, and Decker batted the ball back out in front of her. But there was Mamatas, who stuck it back into the net.

Much of CdM's defensive strategy after that involved limiting the opportunities of the speedy Martino, who leads Beckman (5-9-2, 3-2) with eight goals.

"Their threat against us tonight was hoping that we'd make a mistake in the midfield, then they could connect with her on one of her runs," Middleton said. "We're solid enough defensively, though, that we were able to pretty much contain her the whole night."

O'Connor got some good looks at the goal in the second half, one on a beautiful touch pass from senior forward Ally Brahs, but Decker kept it a one-goal game. The one time Martino did get free in the 70th minute, she nearly made CdM pay. But there was Cox, who was able to snatch up the shot on the left side of the goal.

Middleton turned to his players and told them the Patriots just had their one chance of the game. He was right. Soon after, Beckman sophomore Devanshi Mehta suffered what appeared to be a serious leg injury.

During the break in play Middleton told his team to finish the last eight minutes strong. They listened, though not as much to his advice to stall with the ball in the offensive zone at the end.

"Better to win than tie," said Middleton, a bit aggravated, and Stephenson smiled.

"Or [we can] score another goal," she told her coach.

It didn't happen, but CdM still had the result it wanted. It will be important for his team to keep winning, Middleton said, so it can end up with one of the four seeds for the Division I playoffs.

"If we drop a game in our league, there's probably three other leagues out there that have a little more strength than us," said Middleton, who is on the Division I girls' soccer advisory committee. "We probably wouldn't get seeded, even if we went 9-1 [in league]."

Twitter: @mjszabo

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