Overcoming adversity is often essential for success at the Daily Pilot Cup youth soccer tournament.
Just ask the kids on the Mariners Elementary boys' fifth- and sixth-grade Gold Division team.
Mariners saw one of its top players, center midfielder Zach Forbath, suffer a leg injury during its 2-0 semifinal victory over Mariners Christian on Sunday morning. On crutches, Forbath watched as Newport Coast then take a two-goal lead on Mariners in the first eight minutes of the championship match
The Marlins wanted this one so badly. In each of the previous three years at the tournament, the team's core group of sixth-graders had lost in the Gold Division semifinals. This was their last chance at a trophy.
The squad responded to all of the adversity in a resounding fashion, scoring three goals in a five-minute stretch later in the half. When the final whistle sounded, Mariners was champion, after its 5-3 victory over Newport Coast at Jack Hammett Sports Complex.
Three days earlier, a Rea assistant coach called Mariners probably the favorite to win the tournament. Ryan Baker knows about winning, as he helped Rea win nine titles in this division. But now it is Mariners capturing its second title in this division; the first was in 2011.
"They got close, but they never got it," Mariners Coach Dave Wooters said of the sixth-grade class, which had previously always fell one match short of the title game. "I'm excited for them ... [Newport Coast] caught us off guard. They play a direct ball, kicking it down to their forwards, and they snuck a couple by. I think we just played better possession, and I think possession will win you the game."
Newport Coast struck quickly. There was a scrum in front of the Mariners goal in the second minute of the game, and Chase Marion stuck the ball in. Six minutes later, Trevor Grant got behind the defense and found the back of the net.
Mariners, which went 5-0 in the tournament, did not quit. Center midfielder Bryce Lehner got his team on the board in the 19th minute, scoring on a cross from the right by Alec Blower. Two minutes later, Lehner scored again, a pretty header after a free kick from the right sideline by Dane Carroll.
Lehner was one of four fifth-graders on Mariners, along with Jake Levine, Santo Gezelin and Paolo Belfiore, who were on the team that won the third- and fourth-grade Gold Division title last year.
Newport Coast tied the score again eight minutes into the second half, as Grant again got behind the defense and angled a shot just inside the left post. Wooters and many of the Mariners parents asked for an offside call on the play, but none was given.
"Not at all," the referee told Wooters. "He's very quick."
But Mariners again came back. Rhett Farmer scored the go-ahead goal in the 51st minute. Two minutes later, his shot clanged off the right post, but Jake Orloff was there for the follow-up goal.
The reason why Mariners won this year was simple to Orloff.
"This year we played like a team," Orloff said.
Keegan Netherton and Belfiore combined for stellar goalkeeping for Mariners, which had midfielder Hutton Wooters, center back Nic Sullivan and Kori Griscom also contribute. Mariners has a talented team full of club players; Forbath, Blower, Sullivan, Carroll, Wooters and Levine all play for Irvine-based West Coast FC. Lehner plays for Pateadores.
By comparison, Newport Coast Coach Eric Sidebotham said many of his players weren't dedicated soccer players. He did get standout goalie play from David Adelsberg, who made seven saves, including a nice one diving to his left to stop a shot at the right post.
Zach Cohen, Caleb Cordas, Morgan Johnson, Shane Rooney, Kieran Sidebotham, Tyler Harvey, Aiden Mina, Ari Zahed, Liam Ganion, Cooper Waite, Aiden Pyne, Trey Roberts and Chrsitian Lopez also contributed for Newport Coast, which defeated Pomona, 3-0, earlier Sunday in a semifinal match.
"We've got like three soccer players on our team," said Eric Sidebotham, who coached Newport Coast along with Scott Harvey. "We've got baseball players, basketball players. So for us to kind of get in this position, we're proud of them. I thought they all left it on the field."
Forbath wasn't in the position that he wanted, watching the last game from the sidelines. But many of his teammates came up to him and embraced him after the final whistle blew.
"I was glad that we won," Forbath said later, after the team posed for pictures with its new hardware. "I knew that they could do it, because they kept fighting until the end."