With the score tied, 25-25, in the fourth game and her team leading defending champion Newport Harbor two games to one in the Southern Section Division II-AA girls' volleyball championship Saturday afternoon, Manhattan Beach Mira Costa Coach Dea Lea Aldrich took a deep breath and hoped for the game to end in the Mustangs' favor.
"I didn't want it to go to a 15-point game," she said of the potential fifth and deciding frame. "Newport Harbor had the advantage. It had more experienced seniors on the floor."
In this case, youth won out over experience and Aldrich got her wish. Mira Costa, behind a couple of freshmen who dominated at the net, found a way to break the stalemate for a 25-18, 22-25, 25-16, 27-25 victory at Cypress College that marked the 12th section title since 1972 for the Mustangs (30-3). The win avenged last year's upset loss to Huntington Beach Marina, a defeat so bitter that Aldrich said it will never be completely erased from her mind.
"It feels so good to win," said senior outside hitter Sydney Donahue, who had 16 kills and 13 digs. "We knew Newport Harbor was a good team, but we are two different teams now."
Mira Costa, which upended the Sailors twice in August at the Ann Kang Memorial tournament in Honolulu, including in the title game, showed a different look in the section final with youth playing a much bigger role.
Freshman middle blocker Alix Klineman turned in 18 kills and seven blocks, freshman middle blocker Lauren Bledsoe added seven blocks and sophomore setter Taylor Carico had 12 kills, 17 assists and three blocks.
After stumbling in the second game, the Mustangs opened a 20-12 advantage in the third when Klineman blocked Newport Harbor's Alyson Jennings. Later Bledsoe closed out the game, also with a block on Jennings.
The fourth game went back and forth until Klineman and Donohue shared a block to take a 26-25 lead. The match ended when Jennings, who finished with 13 kills, was stuffed hitting from the middle.
It was a tough loss for Newport Harbor (24-6), which was vying for its ninth section title since 1986. None of Newport Harbor's eight seniors had ever defeated Mira Costa.
Anaheim Esperanza d. Los Alamitos, 25-20, 25-18, 25-19 -- The third time was definitely not the charm for the defending Division I-AA champion Griffins, who beat Esperanza twice in four games in their Sunset League meetings.
Esperanza (32-2) dominated from the opening serve. Sophomore opposite hitter Ashley Engle had 19 kills and served the final two points . Brittany Lowe added 10 kills for the Aztecs, who won their first section title.
Los Alamitos (24-9), which shared the Sunset League title with Esperanza and Huntington Beach Edison, got 10 kills each from Kara Uhl and Geena Urango.
Temecula Chaparral d. Downey Warren, 27-29, 25-8, 25-11, 25-13 -- Once the Pumas realized their gutsy opponent had no starter taller than 5-10, they took charge early and built insurmountable leads in the final three games of the match to win the Division I-A title.
Junior Kelli Tennant, a 6-2 middle blocker, led Chaparral (26-8) with 23 kills and seven blocks. Downey is 23-7.
Santa Ana Mater Dei d. Redondo, 27-29, 25-13, 25-13, 25-23 -- The Monarchs delivered what Coach Craig Pazanti called "our most balanced effort so far" in the Division II-A final to win their third consecutive section title and perhaps earn the top Division II seeding in the Southern region of the state playoffs.
Mallorie Croal led the Monarchs (32-3) with 15 kills, Brynn Maurer added 11 and Kim King chipped in 10.
Redondo (25-14) received good efforts from its middle attack, led by 6-1 sophomore Rebecca Saraleno, who had 18 kills and two blocks. Opposite hitter Sahra Stein had 16 kills and five digs.
Santa Margarita d. Irvine Northwood, 25-17, 25-16, 25-17 -- Blair Socci had 16 kills to lead the second-seeded Eagles (23-7) to victory in the Division III-AA final.
Socci, a junior outside hitter, had five kills in the opening game and eight in the third, including five in an opening 7-1 run.
Northwood (22-5) played without senior outside hitter Laura Black, who injured her ankle in practice before the playoffs began. Black averaged 15 kills and 10 digs a match. Lindsay Macias had 14 kills to lead Northwood.
Brentwood d. San Pedro Mary Star 25-21, 25-22, 25-23 -- The Division IV-A final was no contest as the Eagles (27-3) recorded their fourth sweep of the playoffs in the quickest match of the day.
It was the first section title for Brentwood since 1998.
Mary Star, which upset four-time defending champion San Juan Capistrano St. Margaret's in the semifinals, is 21-5.
Simi Valley Grace Brethren d. Santa Barbara Laguna Blanca, 25-21, 24-26, 25-17, 21-25, 15-12 -- Ashley Farrar had 18 kills and Lizzi Orona added 10 for the Lancers (21-5), who survived furious outputs from Alicia Freeman (26 kills, 26 digs) and Katie Nulty (24 kills, 18 digs) of Laguna Blanca (16-1) to win the Division V-AA crown.
Times staff writer Dan Arritt contributed to this report.