SANTA BARBARA — They mean no disrespect to the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions, but the Newport Harbor High and Los Alamitos girls' water polo teams treated Saturday's third-place match like a glorified scrimmage.
The Sailors and Griffins can get a step closer to the championship they really want Wednesday night at Newport Harbor.
For the record, second-seeded Los Alamitos edged fourth-seeded Newport Harbor, 9-8, in both teams' final game of the TOC. The Sailors fell to top-seeded Dos Pueblos, the eventual champion, 13-6, in the semifinals.
The game Wednesday night is the third Sunset League game, at 7 p.m. at Newport Harbor High. The team that wins it has the inside track on the league championship, as well as the No. 2 overall seed in the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs.
And when the likely top seed is two-time defending Division I champion Dos Pueblos, which is now nursing a 52-game winning streak, you definitely want to be on the other side of the bracket.
"This game [Saturday], it was sort of important because it's third place in a really big tournament," Newport senior defender Catherine Carpenter said. "But Wednesday night is what really matters. That's what's going to matter for CIF seedings. It's pretty much our biggest game of the season before CIF. This was sort of like a warm up, but you could tell our teams were out of it a little bit."
Carpenter made the all-tournament team for the Sailors (12-3). She had two goals and a steal in the third-place game, and also drew three exclusions.
The Sailors were balanced, as senior Kailyn Obenauer, junior Maddy McLaren and sophomore Carly Christian also scored two goals each. UCLA-bound senior goalie Sarah Wilkey made 11 saves and had two steals.
Newport took a 9-8 lead early in the fourth on Carpenter's backhand goal from set, but the Griffins' Stephanie Mutafyan scored twice after that, the game-winning goal coming from about five meters out with 1:58 left in the fourth quarter.
Neither team got too excited. Los Al (17-2) didn't play starting goalie Savanna Smith, and Newport Coach Bill Barnett rested three of his starters in the third quarter with the score tied at 5-5.
The problem to Barnett was that the Sailors weren't excited enough in the semifinal loss to Dos Pueblos either. Kiley Neushul, the tournament MVP and a Stanford signee, will be a teammate of Carpenter's with the Cardinal next year. But Saturday morning she just continually made Newport Harbor pay, scoring seven goals.
Dos Pueblos scored three power-play goals in the first quarter and built a 5-1 lead early in the second. Newport cut it to two, but a Chargers penalty shot and counter goal in the final minute of the half proved too much to overcome.
McLaren and Elissia Schilling each scored twice for Newport.
"They came out flat," Barnett said of his team. "I think they were still enamored with their victory [Friday] against Corona … I think they were all really happy [after beating CdM in the quarterfinals] and that was it. They didn't give a thought to [the Dos Pueblos] game."
Senior Mary Rose Wight offered a different reason the Sailors lost to the Chargers in their first high school meeting since last year's Division I final won by Dos Pueblos.
"We were ready for the game," Wight said. "We just weren't expecting that so early in the morning."
Carpenter laughed, with the game starting closer to lunch time at around 11:30 a.m.
"I'm not an early person," Wight explained.
Luckily for her and the Sailors, the rematch with Los Alamitos is at the Newport Harbor pool and at night.
"We're just going to practice for the next two days and study them, so we're ready for Wednesday," Wight said. "[This loss] just makes us more fired up for Wednesday. We're excited."
Dos Pueblos' 52-game winning streak, which started in February 2009, is the second-longest in CIF Southern Section history. Bell Gardens holds the record, winning 85 straight games from 1998-2001.
Dos Pueblos defeated Santa Barbara in the final, 11-3.