ALISO VIEJO — Gabby Smith, a four-year varsity player in the Corona del Mar High girls' lacrosse program, celebrated her 18th birthday on Saturday.
It happened to coincide with a huge game, the semifinals of the U.S. Lacrosse Southern Section South Division tournament against league rival Beckman.
Smith now can vote. The senior certainly gave her No. 7-seeded team a vote of confidence following a historic 13-8 victory over the No. 3-seeded Patriots at Aliso Niguel High.
"Best birthday present ever," Smith said after CdM earned its second straight upset, earning a spot in the Orange County title match against top-seeded Los Alamitos at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Dana Hills. "I'm so proud of my team, and so proud to be a part of it. I couldn't have asked for anything better for my senior year, especially with my sister [sophomore Sabrina] being on the team. I just love playing with all these players, as long as I possibly can."
Before this year, CdM had never been past the second round of the Southern Division playoffs. But the special run continues for the Sea Kings (17-3). They used huge contributions from so many different players to continue their crazy playoff push, which started with a 19-18 sudden-death overtime victory over Capistrano Valley on Thursday and continued with an 11-6 upset of No. 2 Foothill on Thursday.
Senior Ally Brahs, bound for the University of Washington for soccer, got the game ball from Coach Aly Vislocky. Brahs had three goals and a team-best four draw controls.
Both stats were big midway through the first half against Beckman, with whom CdM shared the Pacific Coast League title this year. After Beckman opened the game with a 4-1 lead, CdM scored seven unanswered goals to storm to an 8-1 halftime advantage.
Smith said the Patriots (15-4) were closely marking her and CdM's leading scorer, junior Molly Rovzar. They combined for just three goals. But Brahs stepped up in scoring as did senior Torrey Attyah, who scored three times in the first half and also led the team with three assists.
"Last game, I noticed they were shutting me down with my passes," Attyah said. "This game, I knew I had to come out and try something new. I had to adjust ... I knew I was going to attack more and not let them get the interceptions they were wanting."
Beckman had been here before. CdM hadn't, but the Sea Kings appeared loose before the game, dancing to a Kelly Clarkson song during shooting drills.
Junior defender Kylie Mulvaney, who tied with Rovzar for the team lead with four ground balls and caused three turnovers, said CdM never panicked, even after the early deficit.
"I just had this feeling that we had to come back," Mulvaney said. "It was going to happen."
Kacie Kline had two goals for CdM, Sabrina Smith and Kendall Mulvaney scored once each and Cassidy Napolitano had an assist. Senior keeper Sarah Hostetler made 12 saves.
Junior Hanna Leonard led Beckman with three goals. Corona del Mar was still able to avenge its 14-8 loss to the Patriots on April 25, the one that denied CdM an outright league title.
Next comes another chance to avenge an earlier loss. Los Alamitos defeated CdM, 14-7, in the Beckman tournament on March 17. However, that game was played in very rainy conditions.
"I'm from Oregon, and the game was the gnarliest rain I've ever experienced," Vislocky said. "I'm excited to play on dry land, and be able to do our thing."
Whatever happens Wednesday, the program continues to grow and thrive.
"I really think [the No. 7 seed] worked to our advantage," Gabby Smith said. "It totally did. Working from down to up is a lot easier, you know? ... Seeing the team grow is just amazing."