NEWPORT BEACH — If Friday afternoon's Holiday Cup title match was a case of David vs. Goliath, Corona del Mar had its collective slingshot aimed at Dos Pueblos and ready to fire.
The Sea Kings are too good to play the David role. But as the game went on, the Chargers proved why they remain giants of the CIF Division I girls' water polo scene.
Dos Pueblos survived a scare and rallied to defend its tournament title, 9-7. The top-seeded Chargers kept intact their 46-match winning streak, which dates back nearly two years to when CdM defeated them in February, 2009.
It wasn't easy for the two-time defending Division I champions. Not with Dos Pueblos senior star Kiley Neushul yelling at her team in the middle of the pool midway through the third quarter and the Chargers (9-0) still trailing by a goal.
Corona del Mar (4-4) built off a come-from-behind, 8-7 overtime victory over Laguna Beach in a tournament semifinal. The Sea Kings started the match against Dos Pueblos on fire.
Junior Diana Murphy and sophomore Ally McCormick each scored twice in the first quarter, helping the Sea Kings out to a 4-2 lead after McCormick's power-play strike on Cassidy Papa's assist. They nearly went up three, but Papa's flip after beating a Dos Pueblos double-team hit the bar.
The Chargers drew closer after Cal-bound Tiera Schroeder's goal, but CdM junior Pippa Saunders answered from set with 3:52 before halftime on a pass from senior Maddie Schwartz. The Sea Kings took the 5-3 lead into halftime, not losing intensity like they might have after squandering a three-goal lead in the Battle of the Bay on Dec. 17.
"I think we did a really good job of playing together throughout the entire game, which was great to see," Murphy said. "Everyone was setting each other up. I think in previous games we've come out in the first quarter fired up and maybe let down a little bit, but I feel like [today] we kept our intensity all the way through."
The problem was, Dos Pueblos picked up its intensity as well. The Chargers went into a heavy press and scored three unanswered goals in the third quarter, taking their first lead on Neushul's strike with 52 seconds left in the quarter.
"It's important that we remember that this game is fun, but it's also very serious," said the Stanford-bound Neushul. "We're very serious about it. Sometimes even I get a little bit, you know, 'This game's going to be kind of easy.' But it wasn't. CdM's a very good team and we can't be like that at all."
Neushul and Schroeder each had a game-high three goals. So did McCormick, who answered for CdM after Neushul's sophomore sister, Jamie, scored early in the fourth quarter to build the Chargers' lead to two. McCormick skipped in a power-play goal from the right to bring CdM within 7-6 with 3:38 to go.
But just eight seconds later, Schroeder skipped in a shot of her own, and the Chargers were on their way.
CdM goalie Alex Musselman had eight saves, but the Sea Kings again struggled in their power play (two for eight).
"We're been working really hard on that," Murphy said. "In the Newport game we were something like three for 11. We've been working on that day after day, hour after hour, going back and fixing it, tweaking it. I think we took some tactics away from that game and we'll get better on our six-on-five."
Sea Kings Coach Sam Bailey was happy with his team's finish, noting that the Sea Kings were a goal closer than when they lost to Dos Pueblos, 6-3, in its season opener. The next chance to further narrow the deficit is on Dos Pueblos' turf, at the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions in two weeks.
Until then, expect Dos Pueblos to keep building that winning streak.
"It's kind of a tricky situation because we want to always win," Neushul said. "But if we lose, that's fine. I mean, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose."
At least that's what the rest of the teams in Division I are hoping.
Saunders had the game-winning goal in the semifinal victory over Laguna Beach, a cross-cage lob off an entry pass from McCormick with 26 seconds left in the second overtime period. Murphy had given CdM a 7-6 lead with 1:16 to go in the second overtime before Laguna's Jessica Shusko tied the score with 55 seconds left.
Murphy also sent the game to overtime, knotting the score at 5-5 with her power-play goal with 2:02 left in the fourth quarter.
Saunders and McCormick each scored twice against the Breakers, and Musselman had 15 saves.