IRVINE — The shot was there for Yoshi Andersen, and she had to take it.
Her first goal of the game could be the biggest, helping the Laguna Beach High girls’ water polo team get back to the CIF Southern Section Division II championship game.
In a six-on-five situation with less than four minutes to go, the sophomore got her chance.
“We told her at that timeout that if it’s your shot, you need to be aggressive and ready to take it,” Coach Ethan Damato said. “She’s been ripping that shot in practice all year. I think she’s our most consistent shooter on the perimeter. She had another one in her.”
Andersen did indeed, connecting with 3:28 to go on what would be the game-winning shot in the Breakers’ 9-8 semifinal victory against Agoura on Wednesday night at Irvine High.
It was just part of a balanced team effort that has Laguna Beach a game away from back-to-back CIF titles. The top-seeded Breakers will face second-seeded Palos Verdes in the final at 2:45 p.m. Saturday, also at Irvine High.
“Yoshi really came through for us,” said junior teammate Jessie Holechek, who had a pair of goals in the semifinal win. “She hadn’t been shooting her best at practice [Tuesday]. I think this will just solidify that she knows she has a great shot.”
Senior team captain Lexie Ross, bound for Stanford, also played one of her strongest games of the season. She had team-highs of three goals and five steals. She also drew a five-meter penalty shot that Holechek converted.
The Breakers (22-8) needed that type of effort, especially as the score was tied at 7 headed into the fourth quarter.
“It didn’t really hit me the importance of this game until the fourth quarter,” Ross said. “I was really nervous. I didn’t want to go through seven minutes and have my season be over.”
Jessica Shusko’s goal gave Laguna an 8-7 lead with 5:45 to go. But just over a minute later, Agoura’s Megan Linder scored from the wing to knot the score again.
Holechek then drew an exclusion at set, setting up Andersen’s heroics.
It was a gutsy performance from the Breakers, who played the second half with both of their primary defenders — Shusko and Melena Masson — with two fouls.
Riley Duncan made some big plays in the fourth quarter, drawing a kick-out and also making a steal.
Junior Lida DeGroote also scored for Laguna on Holechek’s assist. Goalie Etianne Manetta made seven saves and added a big steal late in the fourth quarter to help the Breakers.
She came out and stole the ball at set, a risky play considering she had been ejected in the second quarter on a similar play. This time, she said, “I was crossing my fingers.”
But Damato said he trusts his keeper.
“She has the best instincts of every goalie I’ve ever coached,” Damato said. “She played great. She made huge saves for us late and got fingers on balls that I didn’t think she was going to get to.”
Emily Carson scored three goals for the Chargers (21-8) and center Savannah Fletcher scored twice. Fletcher, however, missed a wide-open net after Manetta’s exclusion in the second quarter and also missed on a penalty shot.
“She had a wide-open shot and she’s a very good shooter,” Holechek said. “All we have to say is that we got lucky on that one.”
They might need more than luck Saturday.
“We’re going to have to play a lot better than we did [Wednesday],” Damato said.
In the quarterfinals Feb. 20, the Breakers eased past Dana Hills, 17-6. Shusko scored three goals and Andersen, Mackenzie Baldridge, Holechek, Ross and Alia Manetta scored two goals each.
Laguna was up, 12-3, at halftime.