San Clemente, Aliso Niguel play to scoreless tie


SAN CLEMENTE – Stellar defensive efforts on both sides prevented No. 4 Aliso Niguel and No. 10 San Clemente from getting a valuable victory to close out the first half of South Coast League girls soccer play, as the teams played to a scoreless tie Saturday at San Clemente High.

It was the first meeting between the two rivals since Aliso Niguel edged San Clemente 2-1 in the CIF-SS Division 1 championship match last March.

Both teams end the first half of league battling for the third and final automatic playoff berth. The Wolverines (8-3-3; 1-1-2) are in third place, with the Tritons (8-5-4; 1-2-1) one point behind in fourth. The teams will square off again Jan. 29 at Aliso Niguel.

"Coming off a loss, they (San Clemente) had to get something out of this match and they battled us," Wolverines coach Randy Dodge said. "I thought we played well, but we have to get in a rhythm offensively and score some goals."

The defensive tone of the match was set in the first half, as neither team was able to mount sustained possessions into the attacking third.

San Clemente received strong efforts on its backline from senior Sydney Fuertes, junior Emma Burns and sophomore Smara Bahu, who consistently shut down Wolverines attacks and cleared balls back into the midfield to help set up counterattacks.

"It was a pinnacle effort from our backline," Tritons coach Stacey Finnerty said. "It is coming together just how I want it to."

Spearheaded by senior Nicole Smolinski, the Wolverines defense was up to the challenge and denied San Clemente quality scoring chances by shutting down passing lanes and not allowing the Tritons to find open spaces to attack.

Each team had one scoring chance in the half. Wolverines senior Lindsey Doyle was wide of the near post on a shot attempt in the 24th minute, and San Clemente junior Nikki Faris had a shot saved by Wolverines senior goalie Riley Sims in the 36th minute.

Both teams had early scoring opportunities in the second half. Tritons junior Katie Milberger was wide of the near post on a shot in the 46th minute, and Wolverines senior Danica Koos produced a shot that was saved by Tritons junior goalie Audrey Block in the 51st minute.

The two defenses controlled the match for much of the second half, as neither team was able to mount sustained possessions past the midfield.

San Clemente had one final scoring chance with less than minute left, but a header from Milberger off a floating pass into the box by Fuertes sailed just over the crossbar.

"We are a bit inconsistent right now on how we attack and it's going to take composure for us to try and get some goals," said Finnerty, whose team has scored only one goal in its last five matches. "We have to play quickly to feet and play to our strengths by getting wide and using our speed."

With three teams within four points of the final automatic playoff berth in the South Coast League, Dodge knows the second half of the schedule will be a tough test.

"This league is a grind and I feel as though every team in our league is still very much in striking distance for the playoffs," he said.

In nonleague matches:

No. 4 Sunny Hills 1, Crean Lutheran 0: Maribell Morales scored in the second half as the visiting Lancers (15-1-5) edged the Saints (12-5-1).

St. Margaret's 3, Ontario Christian 0: Lizzie Barbaresi scored two goals to lead the Tartans (7-3-4) to a road victory. Allie Frost had a goal and an assist for St. Margaret's.

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