LOS ALAMITOS — Behind the Newport Harbor High bench, trainers worked on the right knee of its best player.
While Alex Holbrook lay on a table, Coach Dan Glenn took a knee in front of his bench and followed the action. What he saw was that the Sailors were in a vulnerable position in a Sunset League showdown at rival Los Alamitos Thursday.
They lost Holbrook after she landed awkwardly on her right leg in the second set of the first meeting between two programs that shared the league title last season. The Sailors were on their way to dropping the third set when someone carried Holbrook out of the gym.
Glenn said the 6-foot junior middle blocker was going to Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach. On the court, Newport Harbor was in a crisis.
The Griffins did not close things out.
Newport Harbor rallied after facing an eight-point deficit in the fourth set, forcing a decisive fifth set. The Sailors not only shocked themselves, but Los Alamitos, coming from behind to win, 25-22, 15-25, 13-25, 25-23, 15-9, and stay undefeated in league play.
Newport Harbor (13-6, 2-0 in league), ranked seventh in the CIF Southern Section Division I-AA coaches' poll, stole a match at No. 3 Los Alamitos (17-5, 1-1).
"Definitely," Glenn said as his players celebrated as if they won more than a league match.
The atmosphere in the gym at the start was that of a playoff match. At the end, it felt like a section title match for Newport Harbor.
These two teams played in the section finale last year, with Newport Harbor winning.
The Griffins held the edge against the Sailors this season. They won the previous two meetings, in the quarterfinals of the Durango Classic in Las Vegas and in the final of the Dave Mohs Tournament in Huntington Beach.
At home, Los Alamitos Coach Dave Huber said he "blew it."
"I let up and it cost us," said Huber, who went to his bench in Game 4, with his team holding a 19-12 lead. "I told the girls after, 'I'll take the blame for that and I will never let it happen again.
"I didn't put us in the best situation."
The Sailors fought their way back in Game 4.
Emma Lidington sparked Newport Harbor with three straight service aces, cutting the deficit to 19-17. Then Lauren Demos elevated her play in the middle.
The senior blocked Los Alamitos' top hitter, Halli Amaro (13 kills and 13 blocks), to make it a one-point game. Once Newport Harbor took its first lead since the opening set, Demos continued to stuff the Griffins and she finished with eight blocks.
Maddy Brown gave the Sailors the fourth set by hammering down one of her 14 kills. The momentum shifted to Newport Harbor's side.
The Griffins tried to regroup before Game 5.
Junior Tatum Norton did not allow them to at the start. Most of the Griffins' fans had exited the gym earlier in the previous set, believing the match was over.
Norton served well, and Los Alamitos struggled passing, allowing the Sailors to a take a 3-0 lead. The advantage increased by five when Sary and Demos recorded kills, forcing Huber to call a timeout.
The Sailors pulled out all the tricks. Sary faked as if she was going to set before striking the ball to an open space on the court for a kill.
When Sary set the offense, the junior found Brown and the senior delivered three crucial kills down the stretch. Sarah Buckingham got involved in the action, slamming down two of her 11 kills.
Buckingham teamed up with Demos to block a shot, putting Newport Harbor at match point. When Los Alamitos outside hitter Alijah Gunsaulus hit the ball into the net, the Sailors pulled off a dramatic comeback.
Sary, who had 22 assists, could not believe it.
"Not really," Sary said. "This is the biggest game in the league."
Sary expects Holbrook to return, saying she has come back from previous knee problems.
"We can't [afford to lose her]," said Glenn, adding that the trainer told him that Holbrook's knee did not appear to be dislocated. "She's a really strong kid, so hopefully her muscles are strong enough to kind of handle that."
The Sailors showed their might without Holbrook.