CdM moves on

COSTA MESA — Members of the Corona del Mar High girls' soccer team said Friday that there's pressure with being the top seed in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs.

CdM has never won a section title in girls' soccer. At a school that only puts up banners in the gymnasium for CIF championships, the girls' soccer program is not included.

The Sea Kings have to win four playoff games just to get in position to make that history. On Friday at Jim Scott Stadium, a physical Huntington Beach side tried to derail those plans from the start by pulling off a big upset.

CdM showed it could fight back. Monica Venturini scored in the 32nd minute and the Sea Kings defeated the Oilers, 1-0, in the Division 1 first-round match.

CdM (21-2-2) will play Citrus Belt League champion Yucaipa in the second round Wednesday, at a site to be determined by coin flip. Yucaipa got past Mission Viejo, 1-0, in another first-round game Friday.

Neither team was assessed a yellow or red card, but plenty of bodies hit the turf against the Oilers on both sides. CdM's leading scorer, junior midfielder Annie Alvarado, was one of the players who was most affected. Late in the first half, she got her legs taken out from under her near midfield. Midway through the second, she briefly had to come out of the game after she was cut on her leg.

"We were expecting a physical game coming into it, so we were prepared for that," Alvarado said. "We were ready to be hit, but we needed to come out hard too. We needed to make some hits ourselves."

Venturini hit the Oilers (8-9-4) where it mattered, on the scoreboard. CdM Coach Bryan Middleton inserted the junior into the game in the 28th minute. Three minutes later, she found the back of the net near the far post on a cross from sophomore Miranda Stiver.

The play developed fast for the Pacific Coast League champions, ranked No. 9 nationally in the Powerade Fab 50. Midfielder Karsten Sigband gained possession and played the ball ahead to Ally Brahs. Huntington Beach goalie Justice Walker came out to clear the ball, but didn't get all of it and Stiver was able to gain possession.

Middleton said he was hoping to get another goal early in the second half, with the sun in Walker's face. But she made some nice saves, finishing with four of them.

"We took it at them plenty and had plenty of opportunities," Middleton said. "But give it up to Huntington, they had some determination to play with us physically through the second half. They maybe wore us out a little bit, but we hung through and showed that we're just as tough."

The Oilers had chances as well. Midway through the first half, senior forward Alexis D'Zmura had a shot that went just over the goal and off the football crossbar. One of the best chances in the second half came in the 49th minute, when forward Kassidy Simpkins stole the ball in the CdM backfield. But CdM senior sweeper Sydney Raguse recovered well, and the shot went wide right.

"She took a bad touch wide, thank God," said CdM senior goalie Sarah Cox, who had to make just one save.

Huntington Beach's Dottie Rhoten had two good corner kicks midway through the half as well, but the Oilers were unable to record a shot.

As graduated goalie Lindsey Luke — last year's Newport-Mesa Player of the Year — watched from the bench, the Sea Kings' current defense got the job done. The unit is anchored by Cox (Stanford), Raguse (Michigan), Amanda Stephenson (George Mason), Alana Hunter and Molly Keasey.

"We have the steps down, where we have each other's backs when someone gets beat," Raguse said. "We always work back for each other."

They helped CdM post its 17th shutout of the season against the Oilers, the fourth-place team from the Sunset League. Late in the game, Middleton also brought the versatile Brahs back to help on defense.

"I just wanted to shore up the defense," Middleton said. "She's going to the University of Washington as a defender, so it doesn't hurt to bring her back and try some other people up at forward."

As CdM moves forward in the playoffs, the games will continue to be challenging. But the Sea Kings, who have lost in the quarterfinals three straight years, feel like they're up for that challenge.

"Even if we're seeded higher than schools like Aliso Niguel and San Clemente, they've been there before," Cox said. "This is our first real crack at it ... We're taking it one game at a time. You just have to take it game by game and assess it as it comes."

Twitter: @mjszabo

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