ORANGE — To reach the Santiago Canyon College soccer field, one must weave through a meandering campus, ascend five stories of stairs and follow a path lined with marshy bushes to a fenced-in plateau that seems to sit atop the horizon like a sod-covered cloud.
For visitors, the ascent is apropos.
It is thus, because the host Hawks women's team has hovered atop the Orange Empire Conference since the first of their eight straight titles in 2004. This season, all Santiago Canyon has done is refuse to lose.
The Hawks, ranked No. 1 in the state, took a 3-0 lead on their way to a 3-1 victory over visiting Orange Coast on Tuesday, putting additional separation between themselves and remaining title contenders Cypress and OCC.
The Pirates (11-3, 7-3 in conference) entered Tuesday on a seven-game winning streak during which it had outscored opponents a combined 28-1. The Pirates knocked off Cypress, ranked No. 4 in the state and No. 3 in Southern California on Friday, avenging a first-round loss to the Chargers.
OCC fell to Santiago Canyon, 2-0, in their first meeting Sept. 14.
Now, OCC Coach Kevin Smith hopes his team will get another crack at the Hawks (13-0-1, 9-0-1), who won state titles in 2009 and 2006, a national title in 2009, and reached the state title match in 2011 and 2007.
"It would be in the playoffs," Smith said of a potential rematch with the Hawks, who ended OCC's season after the Pirates posted two playoff upsets last fall.
Making the postseason, however, could be dicey for the Pirates, who are unranked and, due to a power-point system similar to a Ratings Percentage Index used in NCAA sports, vulnerable for a playoff snub.
"Really, the biggest challenge is getting enough power points at this point to be able to get in the playoffs," Smith said. "I feel that if we want to be guaranteed a playoff spot, we have to win out, and we need a couple of teams that are below .500 in our conference to get above .500."
With the win, Santiago Canyon, which has outscored opponents 46-7 this season, has 28 points in the conference standings (three points for a win and one for a tie). OCC has 21 points with six conference matches remaining.
Cypress entered Tuesday with 22 points.
But, of the six opponents OCC has left, none had an overall record that was better than .500 and only Golden West (at 4-4-1 heading into Tuesday) was at least breaking even in conference play.
In terms of power points, that means OCC is virtually spinning its wheels beating sub-.500 competition, leaving the Pirates in peril of missing the 16-team postseason.
The Pirates were not overwhelmed by Santiago Canyon, despite the Hawks' 21-13 advantage in shots.
OCC goalkeeper Katelyn O'Banion matched SCC's Ashley Cooper with seven saves.
Sophomore forward Kiley Leshin posted OCC's goal in the 56th minute., She knocked in a rebound after sophomore Jessica Amaral headed a corner kick by sophomore Sarah MacArthur on frame, forcing Cooper to make a save.
MacArthur corner kicks produced quality scoring chances for Amaral and freshman Anmarie Moreno midway through the first half. A throw-in headed by Amaral and onto the foot of sophomore Cindy Rubio, gave OCC supporters reason to gasp in the 25th minute. But Rubio's back-heel flick was scooped up by Cooper before it could cross the goal line.
"I think we had a lot of corners, free kicks and long throw-ins into the box that I don't really think [the Hawks] dealt with very well," Smith said. "We just didn't pounce on that loose ball. We didn't get the right bounce, and their keeper made a couple good saves. I think we put them on their heels and they had to dig deep to get those balls out. I don't think they were real comfortable with it."
The Hawks were comfortable in the offensive zone. They scored in the ninth minute when Jennifer Martin headed in a cross from Madison Cody.
With about 90 seconds left in the first half, Abieyuwa Ogiamien broke free near midfield and centered the ball to Dena Wasielewski. Wasielewski unselfishly dished the ball to Jenna Patel, who deposited in the upper-left portion of the net.
SCC's final goal was supplied by Bianca Frontino, who's drive from just outside the 18-yard box was too hot to handle.
Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun