IRVINE — The Newport Harbor and Corona del Mar girls' basketball teams are not scheduled to square off in the Battle of the Bay until Jan. 3.
Exactly a month before that game, they met Saturday night in the championship game of the CdM Tip-off Tournament.
Newport Harbor Coach Justin Long said once a year is enough for the Back Bay rivals to play each other. It was easy for Long to say after his squad was the stronger one Saturday, taking the title by winning, 43-34, at Northwood High.
"I'd prefer to walk away and see them next year," Long said, knowing it won't be that easy.
But his team made it look easy in the first half. The Sailors (4-0) exploited their obvious size advantage in the post with 6-foot-2 junior Kasey Thompson and 6-1 senior captain Alex Morton. The Sea Kings (3-1) had to double team quick, not really able to guard straight-up despite the valiant efforts of 5-6 Daniela Gallardo and 5-8 Karleh Wilson.
Morton was named the tournament MVP. Although she only scored four points against CdM, it was obvious she impacted the game in other ways with her 16 rebounds, six steals and six blocks.
"That shows you how much she impacts the game," Long said. "If you take her away, we have to step up. The nice thing is that if you take her away, you're usually not doing it with one person. That allows us to find the open [player]. And if you're going to double-team Kasey and Alex, that's probably impossible."
Thompson, also an all-tournament team selection along with junior guard Mandy Legault, was on fire in the early going. She scored 12 of her game-high 15 points in the first half.
Thompson scored the game's first three baskets, all on put-backs. The Sailors had a 9-0 lead by the time Gallardo made two free throws with 1:10 left in the first quarter.
"I feel like our team played really well together, even with [our] size or not," said Thompson, who had 14 rebounds. "We know when the next person's open. We all contribute."
A three-pointer by senior guard Ellie Nadal, a CdM all-tournament team selection along with Wilson, got the Sea Kings closer. But Coach Mark Decker's squad, which was down 21-9 at halftime, just couldn't find the basket enough in the physical game.
"We know they're going to get some second shots," Decker said. "They're just so much bigger than we are. We did what we wanted to do, we just didn't make shots. If we hit some shots, it's a game."
Legault scored eight of her 15 points in the third quarter, and the Sailors extended their lead to 37-22 headed into the fourth. But the Sea Kings fought back behind some aggressive drives to the basket by Wilson, who scored all 11 of her points in the second half.
Corona del Mar opened the fourth quarter on a 9-1 run. After CdM senior Saylor Schroff nailed a three-pointer with 5:15 to go, the Sea Kings were within striking distance, down 38-31.
But CdM picked a bad time to go cold again, scoring just one point over the next five-plus minutes until senior guard Kayla Marolt, who had a team-high 12 points, hit two free throws with two seconds left.
Sophomore forward Lexi Kunkle had nine rebounds for the Tars, and senior point guard Mimi Gibson had seven points.
Gibson and Nadal battled all game near the top of the key.
"They were allowing them to be pretty physical up top," Long said. "I thought Mimi did a nice job of still staying with her game and not getting flustered."
The Sailors have already shown progress a week into the season. They're almost halfway to their total of nine wins from last year.
"We only had one win in the Sunset League [last year]," Long said. "I think this year, we can probably get three to six wins in league. Obviously, we want to go 10-0, but if I want to be a realist I'd say with three to six [wins] we'd have a successful year.
"If we can take care of our nonleague games, we can probably make the CIF playoffs."
CdM Tip-off Tournament
Newport Harbor 43, Corona del Mar 34
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Newport 11 – 10 – 16 – 6 — 43
CdM 5 – 4 – 13 – 12 — 34
NH – Thompson 15, Legault 15, Gibson 7, Morton 4, Lesueur 2.
3-pt. goals – None.
CdM – Marolt 12, Wilson 11, Nadal 4, Schroff 3, Coffman 2, Gallardo 2.
3-pt. goals – Nadal 1, Schroff 1.
Fouled out – Wilson.
Technicals – de Arakal.