COSTA MESA — The road to the Orange Empire Conference men's soccer championship clearly goes through 17-time defending conference champion Santa Ana College.

But, as Orange Coast College discovered Friday, Golden West may be hitting the Santa Ana recruiting trail in order to forge a pathway to making a run at the dynastic Dons.

Golden West, with eight players on its roster who list Santa Ana as their home town, defeated host Orange Coast, 3-1, in a conference clash Friday to keep pace with Santa Ana atop the conference standings.

Orange Coast Coach Kevin Smith said his Pirates (6-3-1, 2-2 in conference) missed a chance at a significant victory by missing the net on several quality scoring chances.

"It was a disappointing result," Smith said. "The game was won and lost inside both 18s, the final thirds, and they finished their chances and we didn't."

Golden West (7-1-2, 4-0), ranked No. 5 in Southern California and No. 8 in the state, capitalized early, seizing a 2-0 lead just 10 minutes into the contest.

Victor Velazquez, a Santa Ana product out of Godinez High, rocketed a shot into the upper right corner of the net from about 15 yards directly in front to open the scoring in the fifth minute. Eduardo Almaraz, a Santa Ana resident who prepped at Los Amigos High in Fountain Valley, was credited with the assist.

Velazquez, who leads the Rustlers with seven goals (no one else has more than one), doubled the lead by converting a penalty kick in the 10th minute.

But while the Rustlers clearly dominated the initial 10 minutes, the Pirates, ranked No. 10 in Southern California, answered with some commanding play the rest of the first half.

OCC's Chase Nugent, a sophomore forward, and Brandon Bauman, a sophomore midfielder, misfired on shots in the first half that easily could have pulled the Pirates even.

"We weren't very opportunistic," Smith said.. "We had some good chances, especially in the first half."

Smith called for a foul by a Golden West defender inside the 18-yard box late in the first half that would have set the Pirates up with a penalty shot that added to his frustration over the first 45 minutes.

"It could have been a totally different game [at halftime]," Smith said. "It should have been maybe 2-2."

The Pirates put the pressure on early in the second half and pulled within 2-1 when sophomore Jake Little scored off a rebound after Bauman's shot was denied in the 50th minute.

But Golden West answered three minutes later as Nathan DaRosa scored on an assist by Brian De La Rosa to finalize the scoring.

OCC forward Jorge Sanchez, a freshman out of Costa Mesa High, was a catalyst throughout. He finished with a team-high four shots.

"Jorge is dangerous," Smith said. "He's great. I think he's a real talent."

Bauman had three shots, while Nugent, a Newport Harbor High product, had two. OCC matched Golden West with 11 shots, but Smith said his team had better scoring chances.

"I think [Golden West] had maybe five chances and scored three goals," Smith said. "We had six or seven chances and scored one."

Omar Gonzales, a freshman defender out of Newport Harbor High, stopped what would have been a point-blank goal near the goal line in the 57th minute to help keep the hosts in it.

OCC freshman goalkeeper Connor Nelson made five saves, while his counterpart, sophomore Antonio Flores, had six saves for the winners.

"It's still early and we are still in the mix [for the conference title]," Smith said. "This would have been a big [win] for us. Santa Ana has been dominant over a number of years, but [the Rustlers], over the past couple years, has gotten themselves to be a contender."

barry.faulkner@latimes.com

Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5