Every time the Orange Lutheran High girls’ water polo team got a six-on-five chance Thursday evening, Newport Harbor seemed ready to shut it down.
The Lancers were scoreless in five power plays in the first half of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 quarterfinal playoff match. Then 0-for-5 became 0-for-6, then 0-for-7.
“Give credit to their defense,” Orange Lutheran coach Steve Carrera said. “They were clicking, the timing was going well for them and it really hurt us. They were very prepared.”
A defensive stalemate broke out at Santiago Canyon College. No. 2-seeded Orange Lutheran was being pushed, tied 1-1 at halftime against No. 7 Newport Harbor.
A third-quarter spurt finally helped the Lancers. First Izzy Gazzaniga scored from two meters, and then it was Hannah Palmer on the counterattack. After Newport Beach resident Brooke Hourigan finally converted a six-on-five chance from the left, the Lancers had opened up a three-goal lead late in the third quarter.
The Lancers hung on for a 5-3 victory, advancing to the semifinals Wednesday night at Irvine’s Woollett Aquatics Center. Orange Lutheran (21-6) will play Corona del Mar (18-7), which upset No. 3 Goleta Dos Pueblos 7-5 on the road Thursday in another quarterfinal match.
As for Newport Harbor (17-11), the Sailors will play at Dos Pueblos Tuesday in a fifth-place semifinal match. But last year’s Division 2 champions could be proud of their improvement throughout the season. Coach Ross Sinclair said Thursday’s match was his team’s best of the season defensively.
Senior center defender Brooke Banta finished with four steals for Newport Harbor, also recording a field block while doing battle with Gazzaniga.
“This was probably our best game of five-on-six,” Banta said. “We stayed low and kept our composure, and I think we really helped [goalkeeper] Erin [Ross] out with big blocks and big hands.”
Down 5-1 early in the fourth quarter, the Sailors tried to rally. First senior Kili Skibby scored on a penalty shot, after an Orange Lutheran player returned too early from the penalty box. Then, out of a timeout, senior Annie Rankin drew another penalty shot. Freshman Morgan Netherton put it away, and the Sailors were within 5-3 with 2:23 remaining.
“We knew coming into this game, they obviously have a lot of talented players, a lot of firepower,” Sinclair said. “It had to be our best defensive game, and I thought we rose to that occasion and stepped up to that challenge. Our five-man was fantastic. We were communicating, we were reading well, we were moving well. The girls did a great job of going out and executing.
“I thought we never stopped believing. We battled. They played hard and they played for each other, which was great.”
But Palmer, who scored a match-high three goals, got two steals at center in the final two minutes to help the Lancers hold on.
Ross made four saves for the Sailors, while Skibby had three steals. Sophomore center Olivia Giolas drew all three of the team’s exclusions, as Newport Harbor converted one of three power-play chances.
Newport Harbor’s season will continue Tuesday, as the Division 1 bracket gets played out. The new goal is fifth place, which isn’t bad for a team that was ranked as low as No. 17 in Division 1 and 2 early in the season.