Pilot Cup: Defending champion Mariners starts with tie

COSTA MESA — If Mariners Elementary plans to defend its Daily Pilot Cup title in the fifth- and sixth-grade gold division, it will have to do so with new faces.

No players are back from last season's historic finish in the boys' soccer tournament.

"We got some shoes to fill," said Mariners Coach Mark Ensminger, who helped last year's team claim the Newport Beach school's first gold division crown.

Ensminger has turned to a new crop of sixth-graders.

No matter their ability, he said the players deserve to be on the gold team.

Blake Vaughn was golden for Mariners, scoring the first and last goals to assure his team tied Pegasus, 2-2, in a pool-play opener for both teams at the Jack Hammett Sports Complex.

Vaughn saved Mariners from dropping a match. He even had to remind his coach who recorded the team's first goal.

"Blake! Blake! Who scored our first goal?" Ensminger asked Vaughn.

"Me!" Vaughn responded.

"Our first one?" Ensminger said.

"Yes!" Vaughn confirmed again.

"That was you, too?" Ensminger said.

Vaughn found himself in two situations to find the back of the net because of AJ Stefano.

The first time, Vaughn put away a shot by Stefano to give Mariners a 1-0 lead early in the first half. The second time, with the team trailing Pegasus, 2-1, a defender took down Stefano, who was dribbling in the box.

That set up of a penalty kick situation, which Vaughn lined up to take.

The Pegasus sideline began to encourage its goalkeeper, yelling, "You got this!" Vaughn didn't allow the keeper to get anything, his legs, his arms or his hands on the ball he blasted.

Vaughn's line drive to the left evened the match at 2-2 in the 40th minute. Vaughn answered the call after Conor Houlihan put away his second goal eight minutes earlier for Pegasus.

"I didn't the see the [penalty kick] call, but I'm not going to argue with the ref. He called what he called," said Pegasus Coach Rusty Padia, a Newport Beach resident, who is an upcoming senior at JSerra, where he's the keeper on the boys' soccer team.

"[Mariners] played good. I felt like we had an overwhelming amount of opportunities compared to them, but they finished theirs and we didn't."

Padia's team had a chance to get the go-ahead goal late.

Ben Gil attacked for Pegasus, getting inside the box. He dribbled around defenders, but he never took a shot when Padia advised him to strike.

Padia is coaching the Pegasus team along with Conor Roche, a Corona del Mar High soccer standout, who will be a senior next season. Padia said he and Roche went to Pegasus in Huntington Beach.

Now, the former classmates are in charge.

"I love it. It's fun," Padia said of coaching. "We call each other and talk strategy."

Padia and Roche have all Thursday to come up with a winning result for their team's next pool-play match. Pegasus returns to action on Friday against Wilson at 7:30 p.m.

Mariners doesn't have the luxury of day off on Thursday. The defending champions face Lincoln Thursday at 6:30 p.m.


Twitter: @DCPenaloza

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