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Laguna Beach girls’ water polo denied in Irvine SoCal final by Dos Pueblos

A moment in the third quarter of Saturday afternoon's Irvine Southern California Championships title game indicated that it might not be the Laguna Beach High girls' water polo team's day.

The Breakers were whistled for four different exclusions on one Goleta Dos Pueblos possession, the last player excluded being senior goalkeeper Thea Walsh. The Chargers put in the goal to tie the game.

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"I think four exclusions on one possession is enough said," Laguna Beach coach Ethan Damato said. "That was a tough sequence against us, let's just put it that way."

Dos Pueblos also owned the fourth quarter at Woollett Aquatics Center, blanking Laguna Beach on its way to an 8-6 victory that ended the Breakers' run of four straight Southern California Championships tournament titles. More importantly, by avenging its only loss of the season so far, Dos Pueblos (24-1) more than likely locked up the top seed for the upcoming CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs. Laguna Beach (20-2) should be seeded No. 2.

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Stanford-bound Dos Pueblos senior Ryann Neushul earned Most Outstanding Field Player honors for the tournament, while her future teammate with the Cardinal, Laguna Beach senior goalkeeper Thea Walsh, was named Most Outstanding Goalie for the second straight year. Walsh made nine saves in the final and was joined on the all-tournament team by Breakers seniors Sophia Lucas and Evan Tingler.

CdM, bolstered by all-tournament team selections Chloe Harbilas and Sophie Wallace, finished fourth after an 11-6 semifinal loss to Dos Pueblos and a 8-3 loss to Mater Dei in the third-place game.

Seniors Alana Evans and Alex Peros scored twice each for the Breakers in the final, with Tingler and freshman Molly Renner adding one goal each. Laguna, which suffered its first loss in any tournament since a semifinal loss to Orange Lutheran at the 2016 Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions, was within a goal until late.

Damato was issued a red card after arguing a call that gave Dos Pueblos a six-on-five with 1:42 left. He had to watch from the corner of the pool as Chloe Pena buried the power-play shot 17 seconds later, giving Dos Pueblos the 8-6 advantage and a two-goal cushion. The Chargers were on their way to capturing their second straight tournament after winning the TOC last weekend.

"I'm very pleased with what we've done on defense the last couple of weeks," Dos Pueblos coach Connor Levoff said.

Damato said the Breakers gave up too many counterattack chances to a quick team like Dos Pueblos. Olivia Kistler also scored twice for the winners.

Laguna Beach was coming off a 9-3 victory over Mater Dei in a semifinal. Lucas scored three goals while Isabel Riches had two, and Peros, Tingler, Claire Kelly and Nicole Struss added single goals.

Mater Dei played without standout junior Hannah Constandse, who coach Chris Segesman said had a finger injury on her left (shooting) hand. But the Breakers defense was impressive, taking a 5-1 halftime lead against the Monarchs and holding them scoreless in seven power-play opportunities in the game.

USC-bound senior goalkeeper Erin Tharp had 10 saves for CdM in the third-place game loss to Mater Dei, while Layne Anzaldo, Ella Abbott and Wallace each scored one goal. Abbott and Harbilas led CdM with two goals each in the semifinal loss to Dos Pueblos, and Tharp had six saves.

"We were a little bit tired," CdM coach Justin Papa said. "It's tough coming off a win like [Friday night's sudden-death quarterfinal win over Orange Lutheran], having the emotional drain and then coming back and playing against the top teams in the county and the division. We just didn't do enough to get it done today … [but] we're in a good position going into CIF."

Damato feels the same way about the defending CIF champion Breakers, even if they likely won't be seeded No. 1 for the postseason like they have been the last four years, winning three CIF titles in that stretch.

"As I've told our team, it's OK for our journey this year to be different than years past," he said. "It doesn't make it any less special if we get to where we need to go. If this is the way we get there, then that's OK. I believe in this group and I know we can win."

Twitter: @mjszabo

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