From one year to the next, the focus for the Newport Harbor High girls’ basketball team has remained the same.
A prevailing theme throughout last season was the Sailors’ attempt to keep their overall record above the .500 mark. In a tough Sunset League, it often seemed that would be the most viable passage to chase a playoff spot.
Even after releaguing, Sailors coach Jillian Angell does not see a playoff berth as a given in the Wave League, especially with only two bids being promised.
The season-long saga to finish the campaign with a winning record received a boost on Wednesday night. Newport Harbor stole victory from the jaws of defeat in rallying from a 14-point deficit against Portola.
Freshman power forward Emma Fults had nine points, 18 rebounds, seven steals and four assists, as the Sailors defeated the Bulldogs 44-42 in a Soaring Flight game of the Hawk Holiday Classic at Los Amigos High.
Newport Harbor, which won Pool F, improved to 6-4 overall. The Sailors also beat El Modena 57-32 on Monday to begin the tournament.
Fults cleaned up the glass in the absence of junior power forward Chloe Swanson, who suffered a concussion against the Vanguards. Angell said that Swanson planned to see a doctor again on Friday.
“Chloe is a huge part of our team, defensively and offensively,” sophomore center Willa Rath said. “She always gets the rebounds and puts it back up. It was definitely troublesome when we found out that she had a concussion, but Emma came out and completely dominated.
“Now, we can trust Emma in any situation that Chloe is not in. We know that Emma can step up, and other players, too.”
Rath scored seven of her nine points in the fourth quarter. She also had 13 rebounds and three steals for the evening.
Portola (4-3) held its biggest lead of 29-15 when Allyson Tabayoyong hit a running shot in the lane with 32 seconds left in the first half. The Bulldogs led 31-18 at the break, and Portola still held a 33-25 lead going into the final frame.
Fults gave Newport Harbor its first lead of the game on a basket assisted by Selena Muller, which made it 36-35 with 4:53 to go.
A three-pointer by Lauren Shiihara put the Bulldogs back in front, but Fults knotted the score at 38-38 by converting an offensive rebound for a layup with 1:29 to go. Fults hit a free throw 14 seconds later to lift the Sailors into the lead.
“I think it was a lot of determination,” Fults said of her team’s comeback. “We wanted to come out of this tournament winning all of our games, and that would make us better with our overall record, so that was our goal with this tournament.
“I’m very proud of how I did today. I thought it was a good step towards what I will be able to do when I’m an upperclassman.”
The Sailors picked up their defensive intensity in a full-court press, stymieing a Portola offense that had been able to run in transition in the first half. Genevieve Perry and Reese Vickers combined for six steals.
In the final minute, Perry, a junior small forward, was rewarded. She scored the go-ahead layup with 26 seconds remaining, giving Newport Harbor a 43-41 advantage.
“We have a lot of heart, a lot of girls who will get down on the floor,” Angell said. “Reese, she’s all over the floor. I think that comes from her lacrosse. She’s ready to throw her body in the way of anything.
“Genevieve, same thing. She’s just a really hard worker. If you had known her coming from being a freshman, it’s not even the same player. It’s amazing.
“All of these girls are willing to put their body on the line to be able to come out here and play a hard game.”
Cydney Jover also had nine points for the Sailors, while Shiihara had a game-high 14 points for the Bulldogs.
Newport Harbor will face Compton Dominguez at 7:30 p.m. at Liberty Christian High on Friday, with the winner earning a spot in the Soaring Flight championship game. The Soaring Flight title game is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. at Ocean View High on Saturday.
Hawk Holiday Classic
Newport Harbor 44, Portola 42
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Portola 15 – 16 – 2 – 9 — 42
Newport Harbor 8 – 10 – 7 – 19 — 44
P – Shiihara 14, Maymoun 9, Tabayoyong 6, Kim 5, Noh 3, Yee 3, Stewart 2.
3-pt. goals – Shiihara 4, Yee 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
NH – Jover 9, Rath 9, Fults 9, Muller 7, Robinson 4, Perry 3, Vickers 3.
3-pt. goals – Jover 1.
Fouled out – None.