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By Steve Breazeale 

With a strong defensive effort Thursday night the San Clemente boys soccer team took the first step towards reaching the lofty heights they found themselves at in 2013.

The reigning CIF-SS Division 1 champion Tritons recorded their fifth shutout in a row and defeated visiting Mira Costa 2-0 in the first round of the playoffs.

The Tritons (22-2-1) defense denied the Mustangs (8-9-5) a single shot attempt until the 28th minute of the first half, when the Tritons already held what looked like an insurmountable 1-0 lead, thanks to dominating ball possession.

San Clemente looked particularly sharp in the opening 10 minutes and nearly scored when a lobbed through pass from senior midfielder Oscar Hernandez found junior midfielder Santiago di Giuseppe five yards in front of the goal in the third minute. Di Giuseppe fired but clanged the ball off the crossbar.

Seven minutes later, di Giuseppe found himself in the middle of another play before threading a long pass to a streaking Blayne Martinez downfield. Martinez could not handle the ball in stride, but after corralling the pass, he pivoted right then moved back left to bury a shot and give the Tritons a 1-0 lead.

The Mustangs failed to build up any kind of offensive attack and instead caused problems for the Tritons on throw-ins and set pieces. Their first shot on goal came off a throw just before halftime, but San Clemente junior keeper Cole Martinez was up to the task and recorded the save. In all, the Tritons gave up 18 throw-ins to the visitors.

“That was not an easy game to be a defender in … And (throw-ins) was when (Mira Costa) were most dangerous,” Tritons head coach Mike Pronier said. “The kids really stepped up defensively because that’s an area we’ve needed to grow in and I think we grew with challenging and dealing with the long throw today.”

Martinez made five saves on the night and routinely came out of the box to stop any long ball by the Mustangs from becoming a dangerous one.

The Tritons added to their lead two minutes into the second half off a well-timed set piece. Standing 20 yards from the goal Di Giuseppe laced a hard, curling free kick into the box and found the head of senior forward Bryce Kaminski, who directed it past keeper Madison Gesser to make it 2-0. The play made it di Giuseppe’s second assist of the night.

“We were going to do a set play … I said (to Kaminski) just get across the goalies’ eye line and I’ll just whip it in front of the back post and it all worked out perfectly,” the midfielder said.

Up next for the Tritons will be a second-round match on Feb. 25, where they will play the winner of Claremont/Vista del Lago.

For in-game playoff updates, follow us on Twitter @SouthOCsports

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