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Newport Harbor girls’ water polo rallies to beat Orange Lutheran in Santa Barbara TOC quarterfinals

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Newport Harbor’s Taylor Smith shoots a lob shot against Orange Lutheran’s Izzy Gazzaniga in the fourth quarter of Friday’s Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions quarterfinal match at Dos Pueblos High in Goleta.
(Photo by Matt Szabo)

Down by four goals at halftime, the Newport Harbor High girls’ water polo team came right out and scored the first four goals of the third quarter.

The Sailors may be young, but they have a certain resolve. A poor first half only led the way to a memorable comeback against Orange Lutheran.

Sophomore Taylor Smith scored the eventual game-winning power-play goal with 1:49 remaining in the fourth quarter, and Newport Harbor rallied for a 10-9 victory in Friday’s Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions quarterfinal match at Dos Pueblos High.

Third-seeded Newport Harbor (11-2) knocked out the defending tournament champion Lancers and will play No. 2 Santa Barbara San Marcos for the first time this season in a tournament semifinal match Saturday at 11 a.m. at Dos Pueblos. In the first semifinal at 10 a.m., top-seeded Laguna Beach plays Foothill. The Breakers defeated Carlsbad 12-3 in the quarterfinals.

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The title match is scheduled for 4 p.m. at Dos Pueblos.

Newport Harbor has backed up a strong third-place showing at the Bill Barnett Holiday Cup with another top-four guaranteed finish at the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions. This is the Sailors’ first TOC semifinal appearance since 2015, and it started with defense.

Freshman goalkeeper Anna Reed made five of her six saves in the second half, including one at the fourth-quarter buzzer on an outside shot by Orange Lutheran’s Anna Pearson. Sailors coach Ross Sinclair said the overall defense was better in the second half, when Orange Lutheran (10-5) scored just two goals after taking a 7-3 halftime lead.

“I thought the composure was the key for us,” Sinclair said. “We didn’t second-guess ourselves or get caught up in being down. We stayed in the moment really well.”

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Senior Emily Cantu and sophomore Lily Gess are Newport Harbor’s primary set guards. The defensive effort was symbolized on the Lancers’ last possession, after senior center Izzy Gazzaniga drew a six-on-five in the final minute. Newport Harbor gave up nothing inside, and Pearson’s long-distance shot was easily pulled in by Reed.

“We focused on the details, and focused on what we needed to do in order to beat them,” Reed said. “Our defense was really solid in the second half. We all played together, rather than individually.”

Newport Harbor converted five of its seven player-advantage chances in the second half, and six of 11 for the match. That started with junior center Olivia Giolas, who didn’t score but drew six exclusions and a five-meter penalty shot.

“It helps having the team that we have,” Giolas said. “I mean, it’s really great being surrounded by these girls. They’re so unselfish, and they did an amazing job swinging the ball and getting the ball to me. I give all the credit to them, all of my outside girls. Yeah, I hold position, but it’s them that have to get me the ball. I think all of it is just due to how we play together as a team. It was everybody. It started with our defense and led to our offense.”

Sophomore Morgan Netherton led the Sailors with four goals, while Smith had three goals and five steals. Cantu and senior left-hander Ashley Salem also scored second-half goals for the Sailors, who also got a key goal by junior Reilly Davis late in the first half to stem an Orange Lutheran run.

Pearson led Orange Lutheran with five goals, and Delaney Palmer had a goal, three assists and five steals. The Lancers still had a five-match winning streak snapped.

“Everybody has really stepped into their roles, and I think that’s why we’re playing the way that we are,” Giolas said. “Nobody cares how young that we are. Yeah, we are young, but we all just play like we’ve been here for years.”

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