ORANGE — In a sport that can defy dominance, Santiago Canyon College consistently dribbles out of the fray of misfortune that can doom even the most superior of women's soccer squads.
The Hawks have won the last nine Orange Empire Conference titles and, during that stretch, have added two state crowns and a pair of state runner-up finishes. All the while, they have compiled a 194-11-15 record for a pristine winning percentage of .916.
Yet, as the scoreless moments stretched on in the second-round game of the California Community College Athletic Assn. Southern California Regional playoffs between Santiago Canyon and visiting Orange Coast on Tuesday, the Pirates' chances of pulling off an upset gained increasing traction.
OCC sophomore sweeper Caitlin Padian continually quelled the top-seeded Hawks' attempts to combine up front, while teammates Sarah MacArthur, Jessica Amaral, Emma Pridmore, Anmarie Moreno, Siobhan O'Toole, Courtney Garrity, Sara Gomez, Kiley Leshin, Cindy Rubio and Shaylen McNulty, hustled and hurtled themselves at rival attackers before and after halftime.
OCC goalie Katelyn O'Bannion was also in position to keep the unbeaten Hawks, who had outscored their 21 previous opponents by a combined 66-8 margin and had been held to fewer than two goals just once in those contests, off the scoreboard, if not out of Pirates' Coach Kevin Smith's craw.
But in the 68th minute, Santiago Canyon found the smallest, momentary crevice in the OCC defense. Sophomore midfielder Bianca Frontino headed a pass from midfield forward into the attacking area and sophomore Jennifer Martin booted it in from the left top of the 18-yard box for the only goal of the day.
The tally sent the Hawks (21-0-1) into Saturday's third round and ended the most successful season in Smith's seven years as head coach.
OCC's 18-4 record included a pair of seven-game winning streaks, both of which ended at Santiago Canyon, a 78-13 cumulative goal advantage, and a serious dose of frustration at the hands of the Hawks.
"I'm proud of the season we had," said Smith, whose No. 9-seeded team surrendered a 15-3 shot advantage on Tuesday. "We only lost to two teams all year, including three times to [Santiago Canyon]. [The loss] is tough, because I think we all had the belief that we could do it and get [the upset]."
OCC managed its best chance in the 85th minute, when Moreno flicked a header on frame off of a Padian chip from just inside midfield. The ball had very little pace, however, and Hawks keeper Ashley Cooper hauled it in while making a sliding charge away from her line.
A promising cross from MacArthur toward Gomez, who was hovering near the far post, was cleared in front by Hawks sophomore defender Nicole Daniels midway through the second half.
"We didn't get a lot of good looks at the goal, but then neither did they," Smith said. "You have to give [the hosts] credit, because as hard as we worked, they matched it and they made it difficult for us. They are pretty sound, defensively, so we knew they weren't going to give up a whole lot.
"Caitlin Padian played great," Smith said. "She kept us in the game. Every time [the Hawks] sort of looked dangerous, she kind of came in and cleaned everything up. She's very fast, she reads the game well from back there and she was really valuable for us in this one."
Smith also praised Amaral for marking the explosive Frontino effectively.
"[Padian and Amaral] stood out, but they all made plays," Smith said of his players. "We were just unable to make the difference-maker."
Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5Copyright © 2015, CT Now