CORONA DEL MAR — Gabby Smith took the pass from Torrey Attyah, flinging the ball as hard as she could into the back of the net.
The Attyah-to-Smith connection is nothing new for the Corona del Mar High girls' lacrosse team. This time, the two senior captains desperately needed to make that connection to keep their high school careers alive.
Smith put the shot away 2:10 into sudden-death overtime, lifting the No. 7-seeded Sea Kings to a thrilling 19-18 victory over No. 10 Capistrano Valley in the first round of the U.S. Lacrosse Southern Section South Division playoffs.
"It's our thing," Attyah, who had a game-high five assists and also scored twice, said of her pass from behind the net to a charging Smith. "It was amazing to end on that."
It was just an amazing game overall. The Sea Kings (15-3) somehow survived, moving into the quarterfinals, where they'll play at No. 2 Foothill on Thursday.
They did it despite blowing a two-goal lead in the final 47 seconds of regulation. They did it despite falling behind Capo Valley by two goals in the first overtime period, and being issued two yellow cards in overtime as well.
"I was just freaking out," said Smith, who had four goals, two assists and a team-best three draw controls. "I didn't want this to be my last game. It was a little scary ... Our team has had the reputation that we're all mental. We kept it together, and I don't know how we did that."
CdM looked down and out in overtime. Sophomore Riley Eggeman and junior captain Ally Hadley scored twice within a minute for the Cougars (12-5), giving them a 17-15 lead. Twenty-five seconds later, a CdM defender was issued a yellow card, meaning CdM had to play a player down for two minutes.
CdM junior captain Molly Rovzar, who had five of her team-high seven goals in the second half and overtime, said the Sea Kings began to get frustrated.
"We were struggling with the calls," Rovzar said. "I would never blame the refs, because it doesn't come down to that. [But] our defense plays more aggressive. It works for some [referees] and it doesn't work for others, and it was not working with our refs. Most of their goals were off free-position shots. We had to forget about everything and just play how we know how to play."
CdM was back at full strength with 2:18 left in the second overtime. But just seven seconds later Gabby Smith's younger sister, Sabrina, was issued a yellow card for a dangerous follow-through on her shot. Yet somehow, the Pacific Coast League co-champions came back.
"There was a point where honestly, as a team, we were done," Rovzar said. "Everyone was about to throw their sticks on the field and honestly be like, 'This is it.' We were really able to come together as a team. If we fall apart, that's what they're trying to do, get us to fall apart. But we rose above it."
Gabby Smith stole the ball, raced down the field and scored with 1:28 left in the second overtime to bring CdM within a goal. Then, after CdM junior Kylie Mulvaney controlled the draw, junior Kacie Kline (five goals) scored in the middle on a pass from Attyah with 1:09 left.
Eggeman scored on a second-chance goal with 46 seconds left to give Capo Valley an 18-17 advantage. But the Sea Kings made big plays down the stretch.
Sabrina Smith was able to come back in the game with 18 seconds left. Smith, who has the nickname of "Bean" on the team, immediately made her presence felt. She took the pass from Mulvaney and was fouled. Off the foul, she skipped in a shot with just five seconds to go, tying the score and sending the game to sudden-death overtime.
It was there that CdM senior goalie Sarah Hostetler made the biggest of her 16 saves. Eggeman, off a foul, passed the ball to Hadley in front of the cage. But Hostetler stood her ground, blocking the shot. Gabby Smith got the ball, and she would eventually score the game-winner on the other end.
"It was an unguarded crease roll, which is a goalie's worst nightmare," Hostetler said. "... I didn't give her stick an option of anywhere to go. Her stick went into my stick, her stick went into my pocket, and that's why the ball dropped to the ground."
Coach Aly Vislocky highlighted the play of Kylie Mulvaney on defense, as well as senior Ally Brahs, who took many of the draws for CdM near the end of the game.
"We have nine varsity seniors. and a lot of them I've coached since their eighth-grade year," Vislocky said. "I think all of the history of the last four years was flashing through their heads. In the team huddles, you could feel that energy, that they just wanted to power through this."
CdM is also motivated about playing Foothill. Gabby Smith said the Sea Kings' scheduled game against the Knights on April 13 was rained out, and the Knights didn't want to reschedule.
Foothill and CdM are ranked Nos. 3 and 4, respectively, in Southern California by laxpower.com. The Knights beat the Sea Kings, 19-10, last year in the first round of the playoffs.
"I feel like [beating] Foothill is possible and reachable," Rovzar said. "Foothill is something that we've worked for, and we've always felt like we can compete with them. I think this is the year. After this game, I think we realize how much we want it for each other and how much we're willing to fight for it, even if it means two overtimes and sudden death."