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CHAMPIONSHIP:Shark attack is back

BOYS' 5-6

DAILY PILOT CUP: Duarte bolts from a church to save Rea with a game- winning goal, giving it back the championship.

June 04, 2007

COSTA MESA — You could say Alex Duarte has been blessed.

Duarte, 11, rushed from his first communion at St. Joachim Church to the Costa Mesa Farm Complex and scored the game-winning goal for Rea Elementary with 30 seconds left. Duarte, who changed out of his dress suit into his playing gear on the sideline with less than six minutes remaining, connected on a penalty kick to give back the boys' fifth- and sixth-grade Gold Division title to the Sharks, who had owned it from 2001 to 2005.

The championship belongs to Rea after a 2-1 victory over Mariners Christian, last year's champion.

Thanks to Duarte, and perhaps some divine intervention, Rea has now won six boys' fifth- and sixth-grade titles in the Daily Pilot Cup, the soccer tournament that's in its eighth year.

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"I was just hoping I could score a goal after all that stuff," Duarte said of arriving to the game late on Sunday. "I was just happy [after the goal]. I knew we were going to win the championship and bring the Cup back."

Duarte gained confidence once teammate Christian Montillo set up the penalty kick. Duarte launched the ball toward Mariners Christian's goal on a corner kick. Montillo headed the ball at the goal, but a Mariners Christian field player slapped it away and was assessed a red card to give Rea a penalty kick.

Rea Coach Ryan Baker knew he wanted Duarte to take the penalty kick. When the score was tied, 1-1, with 15 minutes left, he was expecting the game would be decided by penalty kicks. He was hoping Duarte could make it in time, just so he could help the Sharks. Turns out, Duarte arrived a bit earlier than expected. And, made the most of his arrival.

"I just changed on the sideline," said Duarte, who led Rea with seven goals in the Daily Pilot Cup. "I put the [Daily Pilot Cup] shirt over my white undershirt. I had my tights on underneath my pants, so I just changed as quick as possible."

Duarte's arrival also gave his team a boost of energy.

"It was exciting," Baker said. "He gave a lift to the team. He showed up and sort of saved the day for us."

The Sharks were also aided by a goal in the first half. Alex Esquival scored on a free kick from about 25 yards out to give Rea a 1-0 lead.

But the Sharks weren't all about offense. Their defense, actually, is what helped put them back in the title game. Last year, they lost in the semifinals.

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