Corona del Mar High girls’ water polo coach Justin Papa said that Wednesday night’s CIF Southern Section Division 1 semifinal playoff win over Orange Lutheran was “against all odds,” and he wasn’t kidding.
The Sea Kings spent the whole match battling back, and also had to overcome two key starters — senior co-captain Carter Britt and sophomore attacker Grace Myers — fouling out in the fourth quarter.
As it turned out, one lead was good enough to send the Sea Kings to their first Division 1 final since 2013.
Senior attacker Sophie Wallace scored off a post-up with 45 seconds left in the fourth quarter as the Sea Kings upset the No. 2-seeded Lancers 8-7 at Irvine’s Woollett Aquatics Center.
CdM (19-7) will play Surf League rival and top-seeded Laguna Beach (28-1) in the title match Saturday back at Woollett, and will be trying for its second Division 1 title.
Orange Lutheran (21-7) led by as many as three goals, and never trailed until Wallace’s second goal of the match in the final minute. After a Lancers shot cross-cage went wide with about 20 seconds left, CdM was able to play keep-away and eventually celebrate.
Junior defender Megan Peterson scored three goals for the Sea Kings, while senior center Layne Anzaldo, sophomore center Kaity Greenwald and senior co-captain Ella Abbott had one goal each. Abbott also assisted on Wallace’s game-winning goal.
Wallace also had a key five-on-six field block with 1:50 left for CdM, which staved off four separate Orange Lutheran power-play chances in the fourth quarter alone.
“We kept our composure really well throughout the whole game, especially the fourth quarter with tensions really high,” Wallace said. “I think we all just relied on each other to calm down and stay focused.”
The Sea Kings never led in the first half, but they worked their way back from a 5-2 deficit early in the second quarter after Leslie Haynes scored for the Lancers.
Abbott answered with a power-play goal from the right side, and then Peterson scored, assisted by Myers on a drive inside as the Sea Kings trailed 5-4 at halftime.
That deficit became 7-4 in the third quarter after Orange Lutheran got back-to-back goals from Newport Beach resident Brooke Hourigan, but CdM again rallied. Wallace’s counterattack goal tied the score at 7-7 with 6:24 left in the fourth quarter.
Wallace’s defensive play in the final two minutes helped set the tone for her game winner.