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Orange Beats the Elements


ORANGE — After 40 minutes of unrelenting rain, Orange boys' soccer Coach Sal Anaya looked as if he'd had three or four water buckets dumped over his head. But that didn't spoil the moment when his players eventually doused him.

The Panthers battled the rain, their opponent and the officials Tuesday afternoon, but kept their composure to advance to Saturday's Southern Section Division II championship game with a 3-1 semifinal victory over Oxnard Rio Mesa at Orange High.

Orange will face Compton Dominguez at 2 p.m. Saturday at Cerritos Gahr High School in what will be the Panthers' first championship game appearance since 1990, when Anaya and assistant coach Kevin Esparza were players.

Call it hard-played, or perhaps hard-fought, but the referee issued three red cards and two yellows during a heated second half.

"Before the game, I told my players whoever came out with the most heart to win would get it," Anaya said. "Rio Mesa came out wanting it just as much as we did. We were lucky to get the first goal."

Orange (18-3-6) got the first two goals actually, and pelted Rio Mesa's goalkeeper for several other shots during the first 25 minutes. Jose Velasquez's soft header gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead, and Stephen Gonzalez scored left-footed on a breakaway past charging Spartan keeper Nick Pavlick to make it 2-0.

Rio Mesa (16-7-3) closed the half with seven consecutive shots but were turned away each time by Orange keeper Aldo Zuniga, who finished the game with nine saves.

With rain falling harder, an already physical game got rougher in the second half. Both teams began to display their emotions, coming to a head when Estrada and Panthers' defender Danny Califf were issued red cards. Califf, a sophomore starter, will have to sit out Saturday's championship game.

"It got kind of scary toward the end there once Danny went out," Gonzalez said. "Both teams started getting frustrated."

Added junior defender Angelo Cutrona: "We can be tough physical, but we're better when we use our skills."

Rio Mesa tightened the game with five minutes left, when Jaime Ambriz scored on a penalty kick, but Orange answered back on Genar Lopez's breakaway.

The Panthers will have their second-leading scorer, Victor Diaz, back for Saturday's game. Diaz sat out Tuesday after getting two yellow cards in Thursday's quarterfinal.

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