CORONA DEL MAR — Newport Harbor High senior center Alex Morton has been battling a back injury for several weeks now.
On Tuesday night in the Battle of the Bay, Morton was just back.
With game-highs of 15 points, 17 rebounds and seven blocks, she helped the Sailors beat girls' basketball rival Corona del Mar, 42-31, on the Sea Kings' court.
Morton wasn't about to lose a Battle of the Bay game.
"I've won since seventh grade," Morton said, smiling, taking it back to her days at Ensign Intermediate. "I finished off strong."
Morton helped the Sailors (9-6) beat CdM (9-7) for the fourth straight year. She could have approached her second triple-double of the season if she didn't sit out much of the fourth quarter with Newport Harbor nursing a comfortable lead.
The smaller Sea Kings started the game ice-cold, and worse, couldn't challenge defensively. The Sailors didn't stray from their game plan established when they beat CdM, 43-34, on Dec. 4, in the final of the CdM tournament.
Newport Harbor pounded the ball inside to the 6-foot-1 Morton and 6-2 junior Kasey Thompson early, taking a 6-1 lead. Senior guard Laura Calvillo, a co-captain with Morton, got three early assists.
Calvillo didn't have to get too creative. Several times in the first quarter, she simply lobbed the ball into the post to exploit the size mismatch.
"I look at my posts like a moving basket," Calvillo said. "No matter what, I know that Alex and Kasey will always catch the ball. I just have to get it to them, a nice lob. It's a moving basket for me and I love it. I'll never miss that shot."
Thompson (10 points, nine rebounds) got her second foul midway through the first. Sailors Coach Justin Long simply inserted another force, 6-1 Kelly Lesueur, who scored a quick basket and added five rebounds.
Long knew the Sailors again could use their size as an advantage.
"The size never changed," Long said. "[Corona del Mar] didn't get any taller in the last few weeks, so that helped. [CdM Coach] Mark [Decker] made some adjustments, but our girls were ready to go. In a rivalry, the girls are ready."
Decker didn't see the Sea Kings ready to go until the fourth quarter. By then, CdM was down, 35-16. The Sea Kings made just four of 32 shots (12.5%) in the first three quarters.
The Sea Kings heated up too late. Senior guard Ellie Nadal, who finished with a team-high 10 points, made two three-pointers in the final quarter. When senior forward Daniela Gallardo made one with 1:35 to go, she cut the deficit to 39-28.
But CdM, which has lost six of its last nine games, couldn't get closer.
"We're just very inconsistent," said Decker, whose team opens Pacific Coast League play Friday at home against Northwood. "Right now, I don't know what to expect from one game to another, and that isn't good as a coach."
Senior point guard Mimi Gibson had seven points and three steals for the Tars, who play host to Marina on Thursday night in their Sunset League opener. Newport Harbor has now equaled its win total from last season, when the Sailors had eight victories at this point but then went just 1-9 in league.
This year, Long said the goal is at least three wins, even with top-tier teams like Edison and Huntington Beach in the league. Morton's improving health would make that easier.
"She's back, and that's good to know," Long said. "Through this injury, she's been more of a facilitator and kind of making our offense run, but really she's our go-to girl."
Morton believes the Sailors will no longer be pushovers.
"I feel like we have so much momentum right now," she said. "Our chemistry has definitely improved. It's not about, 'OK, we're going into league and it's going to be loss after loss after loss.' We have a chance to compete this year. We know our players and we know our personnel.
"I'm excited about it. I think Newport is here to compete."
Newport Harbor 42, Corona del Mar 31
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Newport 15 – 5 – 15 – 7 — 42
CdM 7 – 5 – 4 – 15 — 31
NH – Morton 15, Thompson 8, Gibson 7, Calvillo 4, Legault 2, Rabens 2, Lesueur 2, Kunkle 2.
3-pt. goals – None.
Fouled out – Thompson.
Technicals – None.
CdM – Nadal 10, Marolt 8, Gallardo 6, de Arakal 3, Rapp 2, Schroff 2.
3-pt. goals – Nadal 3, Gallardo 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – Coach.