ANAHEIM — For the second game in a row, the Newport Harbor High girls' lacrosse team scored just four goals.
Both losses hurt. The first was an 11-4 setback to rival Corona del Mar on Saturday in the Battle of the Bay, but this one might have been as important.
The Sailors were shut down in the second half in an 8-4 Century SE loss to Esperanza at the Aztecs' field Tuesday, a game with league title implications.
Newport Harbor (7-6, 5-1 in league) suffered its first league loss to Esperanza (5-8, 4-1) with two league games to go. If both teams win out, they will share the league title.
But the Sailors are also trying to get into the U.S. Lacrosse Southern Section South Division playoffs. The top 16 teams in Orange County make it, and Newport Harbor came into Tuesday's game ranked No. 13 by laxpower.com. A loss to lower-ranked No. 19 Esperanza did not help matters.
"If we win our last three, we're in," said Sailors Coach Matt Armstrong, whose team closes the regular season with league games at Yorba Linda on April 28, at home against El Dorado on April 30, as well as a nonleague game at Santa Margarita on May 1. "I don't think there's any such thing as playoff security for anyone [ranked] 12 or below with three games left."
Newport Harbor did so early Tuesday. Junior Nicole Newman, senior Daniela Vazquez and junior Brittany McCoy all scored in the first six minutes as the Sailors earned a 3-1 lead. It became 4-1 when senior Jordan Blanchfield scored low on an assist from sophomore Katie Hendrix with 8:59 remaining in the first half.
The Sailors were blanked for the final 33:59 of the game. Meanwhile, Esperanza senior Elly Mosher caught fire. She scored the final four goals of the half as the hosts earned a 6-4 halftime advantage. Esperanza owned the final minutes of the first half, which was the opposite of the teams' first meeting, an 11-10 Newport Harbor win on March 24.
Newport Harbor's problem in the second half was that it just couldn't seem to get the ball. Meanwhile, senior Gabriella Decker and Mosher scored to double Esperanza's lead.
"The last like 18 minutes they didn't attack the cage," Armstrong said. "We don't really have much of an answer for an 18-minute stall. I saw with about 16 minutes [left] that he wasn't attacking the cage, so we started putting pressure on their girls, and we were unable to get the ball from it. When we did, we were unable to make good on it."
Junior defenders Jordan Rausch and Sophia Riggan led the Sailors with three ground balls each, and senior goalie Montana Mattox made five saves. Senior co-captain Mia Bagiu was also a leader on defense with two ground balls and an interception.
However, the offense just couldn't get going. Armstrong talked with his players for nearly 30 minutes following the loss.
"I think we know the plays very well, but we need to execute individually," said Vazquez, another co-captain along with junior midfielder Rylie Siegfried. "Me personally, I need to work on my aim. It's the little details that need to be fixed. Our plays are good; we know what's going on. Now it's just making that pass straight into her net, placing the shot exactly where you want it. That's what I feel like we need to practice more."
Esperanza Coach Brian Eisenberg was complimentary of the Sailors and their growing program. For his Aztecs, the beginning of the season was rough, but they are starting to get things together.
"Assuming we can win the next three games. It's going to be hard for the playoff committee to get us into the playoffs because we lost some really bad games early on," Eisenberg admitted. "[They were] against teams that we can definitely beat now, but I don't know if they'll see it like that. It's the top 16 teams, and we're right in there … there's a lot of teams fighting for that 13, 14, 15, 16 spot, and every team seems to be beating each other."
That has definitely been true between Newport Harbor and Esperanza.
Now, just like as college basketball leads up to March Madness, it's time for bubble teams like the Sailors and Aztecs to string together some wins to impress the committee.
"You've got to perform," Armstrong said.