For the first time in years, there was a bit of uneasiness coming into the Battle of the Bay girls' lacrosse game on the CdM side.
The Sea Kings knew that rival Newport Harbor has its best team in years and that the Sailors' program keeps growing. And the results of the two Battle of the Bay games played earlier Saturday at Davidson Field didn't go the Sea Kings' way.
"Both of our JV teams lost by a lot," CdM Coach Aly Simons said. "When [the varsity players] showed up and saw those scores, I think they thought, 'Oh man, this is going to be a good game.'"
It was — at least for a half.
CdM's varsity squad had an answer, playing an impressive second half to shut down the Sailors, 11-4, and win the rivalry game for the sixth straight year.
The Sea Kings (7-5) really did it with defense, as Newport Harbor (7-5) matched its season-low in goals and scored just once in the second half. CdM freshman goalie Ashley Olson, playing in her first Battle of the Bay, had one of her best games of the season and finished with 10 saves.
"It was exciting," Olson said. "I didn't want to lose, obviously, and it was really fun. My team was so supportive."
Sophomore Jensen Coop scored four goals for CdM, while junior Paige Nelson had three. Sophomores Katie McCabe (two goals and two assists) and Kennedy Mulvaney (one goal, team-best five ground balls, two interceptions and two caused turnovers) also were difference-makers for CdM.
Early on, though, it looked like the game might come down to the wire. Newport Harbor freshman Adena Rothbard, sophomore Sarah Farley (first varsity goal) and senior Jordan Blanchfield all scored in the first half. Blanchfield's goal, on a free position shot, gave Newport Harbor a 3-2 lead with 4:32 remaining in the first half.
"Yes!," yelled Newport Coach Matt Armstrong, pumping his fist.
But it turned out to be the Sailors' only lead of the night. CdM scored twice in nine seconds to regain the lead. First it was Mulvaney on a free position shot, then Nelson on McCabe's assist with 3:32 remaining.
Nelson added another goal. This one was assisted by sophomore Hailey Neumann, who Simons said was a catalyst in the attack position. Neumann typically plays defense for CdM.
The Sea Kings had a 5-3 lead in the closing seconds before adding another goal, after junior Caroline Bethel was fouled with five seconds to go. McCabe quickly fired the ball inside to Coop, who scored with one second remaining in the half.
CdM celebrated on the field wildly at halftime following Coop's goal.
"That was really cool," Coop said. "That was one of the best moments of my life, I'm not going to lie. It was pretty cool. I think it really boosted our confidence, too. We were all so excited."
McCabe, Nelson and Bethel all added goals early in the second half, and suddenly CdM had a 9-3 advantage. Newport Harbor had a scoring drought of more than 18 minutes until senior captain Daniela Vazquez found the back of the net with 10:59 remaining in the game.
"More than anything, they were strong and seemed to be communicating well and moving well as a team together," Armstrong said of the Sea Kings. "They were defending as a team very strongly. If there's a difference in the game, it's right there. Our team played well defensively, but they I think maybe communicated a little bit better and shut us down a little bit more ... their goalie stepped up big."
CdM senior defender and co-captain Megan Rieden said speed was a strength for the Sea Kings defense.
"Defense, we really worked as a unit today," Rieden said. "We did quick clears out of goal, and I think that really helped with our transitions. It was easy for attack to make quick passes."
For Newport Harbor, Armstrong highlighted the play of defenders Mia Bagiu and Jordan Rausch, as well as midfielders Rylie Siegfried and Katie Hendrix. Senior goalie Montana Mattox made six saves for the Sailors, who play at Esperanza on Tuesday in a key Century SE League game. A win would put Newport Harbor (5-0 in league) in line for the outright league title.
CdM returns to action with a road Pacific Coast League game Tuesday against Woodbridge. For the Sea Kings, Saturday's win was particularly satisfying as they were wrapping up a busy week of four games.
The Sea Kings hope the Battle of the Bay victory can be a spark for what has so far been an up-and-down season. But a very good practice on Friday also offered reason for optimism, Mulvaney said.
"In our minds, we flipped a switch," Mulvaney said. "In our previous games in the week, the rough ones, we learned. We're really soaking in all of the information."