After a hot shooting start, Newport Harbor High junior Ellie Reid hit the wall about halfway through the girls' water polo season.
The left-hander was battling fatigue, sickness and a nagging shoulder injury. She stopped scoring as many goals, not looking as confident with her shot.
"I kind of lost my groove a little bit," Reid said. "I kind of cracked a little bit in midseason."
How did Ellie get her groove back? It took just one shot on Saturday.
She scored the winning six-on-five goal with 2:24 left off a pass from Kate Pipkin, helping Newport Harbor upset Foothill, 5-4, in a CIF Southern Section Division 1 quarterfinal match Saturday at Newport Harbor High.
The fact that the goal helped alleviate another struggle all season for the Sailors — their power play — was just as nice.
"If you look at the statistics, we haven't been doing too well," Reid said. "But we really have been working on it a lot in practice. To put that away felt good."
The result technically was an upset, as Foothill (23-6) was the No. 2 seed and Newport Harbor (22-7) finished No. 7 after a late-season slide. Yet the Sailors beat the Knights for the third time in four meetings this season.
Newport Harbor, trying to reach the Division 1 title match for the third straight year, will play Santa Barbara in the semifinals for the second straight year Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Irvine's Woollett Aquatics Center. Santa Barbara also earned an upset win Saturday, taking out No. 3-seeded Corona del Mar, 10-9, in sudden-death overtime.
Top-seeded Laguna Beach will play No. 4 Los Alamitos in the second Division 1 semifinal, Wednesday night at 7 p.m.
Seniors Christina O'Beck and Heidi Fults each scored twice for the Sailors, whose effort Saturday was perhaps one of their best of the season. It came after dropping from No. 2 to 7 in the Division 1 poll in the final few weeks.
"I think after having a rough time, coming back and putting everything we have into this game really gave us a confidence boost," Pipkin said. "[It says] hey, we're still in this, we still are a good contender and you shouldn't underestimate us ... We're going against a second-seeded team and we're seventh. It really shows that when we all work together and do the right things at the right times, it has a good result."
Neither team led by more than a goal, but Foothill took a 3-2 halftime lead on goals by Cana Manzella and Emily Konishi. Newport Harbor tied the score at 3-3 in the third quarter, after O'Beck turned and scored her second goal from set.
O'Beck also played with plenty of motivation. Friday marked the third anniversary of the death of her father, Rick, from a brain aneurysm.
"In past years it's been a really hard day, but [Friday] it just wasn't," O'Beck said. "I woke up [Saturday], and I was like, 'This is a sign.' Right before the game, I was just like, 'I have to win this game for him.' It pulled me through the whole game."
The Sailors kept the momentum after O'Beck's goal. Fults scored bar-down from up top, on a six-on-five opportunity that she drew. It was one of her four exclusions drawn in the game.
"This team, especially, is so grabby," Fults said. "If you are able to put yourself in a position where you show the ref how much they're grabbing your suit, the ref will give it to you. They're just aggressive and they're really grabby. You have to put yourself in a position to show the ref how they play."
Foothill came back to tie the score at 4-4, when Konishi found Sydney Groot inside late in the third quarter. But Reid's goal was the only one of the fourth quarter.
Pipkin had six steals for the Sailors and junior Rachel Whitelegge played excellent defense on Manzella, who scored one goal. Cleo Harrington had eight saves, and Carlee Kapana added four.
The Knights tried to come back after Reid's late goal. After goalie Kenzie Snyder made one of her nine saves with 33 seconds left, Coach Jim Brumm called timeout. Foothill got the ball to Manzella inside, but the Sailors crashed on her with a triple-team.
This was what Newport Coach Bill Barnett wanted to see.
"That's their offensive threat," he said. "We wanted to keep the ball away from two meters as much as possible. The game plan was to keep the ball away from [Manzella], as much as possible. Whitelegge did a great job, and our goalies did a great job too. We have won a lot of games on defense, rather than offense."
O'Beck poked the ball away and Fults grabbed it with seven seconds left. After a timeout, Newport Harbor just needed to play keep-away to earn the win.
Konishi led Foothill with two goals before fouling out, and junior Julia Sellers had three steals.
In the past few years, the Sailors have seemed to thrive when being cast as underdogs. Now the No. 7 team in the bracket is one win away from playing for the Division 1 title.
Yes, the Sailors have their groove back.