Griffins remove Sailors from perch

NEWPORT BEACH — The Los Alamitos High girls' water polo team was tired of Newport Harbor dominating the Sunset League.

Before a packed house Wednesday night, the Griffins did something about it.

Big time.

Los Alamitos was on from the beginning, turning the much-anticipated showdown at Newport Harbor High into a 9-3 romp that gives the Griffins the inside track on their first league title in five years.

"We had won league five of the six years before Newport came into the league [in 2006-07]," Los Alamitos Coach Dave Carlson said. "We hadn't won since. We finished second every year. The girls, especially the senior class, they wanted to make their mark."

The Griffins did so. Newport Harbor (12-4, 2-1 in league) missed the mark, scoring just one goal in the first 24 minutes. The Sailors also missed a golden opportunity in a couple of regards.

Los Alamitos (18-2, 3-0) just needs to beat Marina and Huntington Beach to end the Sailors' four-year reign atop the league. As importantly, the Griffins would likely receive the No. 2 seed in the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs, keeping them on the other side of the bracket from two-time defending champion Dos Pueblos.

Teams want to avoid the Chargers and their 53-game winning streak as long as possible. Now Newport Harbor likely will be on Dos Pueblos' side of the bracket, as CIF rules state the top two teams from a league must to be in opposite halves.

The Sailors looked lost offensively at times Wednesday. Carlson knows Newport Harbor is dangerous at two meters, with senior Kailyn Obenauer and sophomore Elissia Schilling. Senior Catherine Carpenter and junior Maddy McLaren also set for the Sailors.

But Newport didn't even get a good opportunity at two meters until the first half was almost over. Schilling found the net first with 2:59 left in the first half, and even that wasn't easy. She lobbed the ball in after her first shot was rejected by Los Al senior goalie Savanna Smith (10 saves and four steals).

That made the score 3-1, Los Alamitos. The Sailors would not get closer, as Stanford-bound Los Al senior Cory Dodson (four goals and three steals) scored with 33 seconds left before halftime to give the Griffins a 4-1 lead.

Dodson already had two exclusions, one away from fouling out. Newport Harbor didn't make Los Al pay, as the Griffins instead scored four times in the third quarter to take a commanding 8-1 lead.

"Their drop on Elissia and I was unstoppable," said Obenauer, who had two steals. "When the ball came in, they jumped on us. Not even a second later, they were there … and Savanna had the game of her life tonight, I thought. I've seen her play a lot, and she was definitely on it."

Los Alamitos junior Rachel Fattal and sophomore Stephanie Mutafyan each scored twice. Fattal also had five steals, leading a defense that held Newport scoreless in six power-play opportunities.

"It was just relentless pressure," Carlson said. "The pressure on the perimeter was relentless, and the two-meter [defense]. All of my girls defended two meters tonight. We don't have a set two-meter defender. Rachel defended the most — Rachel and Cory are our two best defenders — but everyone defends well on the team. They're small in stature, but they've got big hearts."

McLaren tried to stop the bleeding in the fourth quarter. Twice she spun around a defender and scored on a lob shot, the second goal brought the Sailors within 8-3 with 3:43 to go.

Her father, announcer Matt McLaren, asked the crowd if the Sailors had enough time left to mount a comeback. A couple of fans on the other side of the pool screamed, "No!"

They knew the Griffins were on the verge of a league title.

"Our philosophy is 'defense wins games,' " said the Cal-bound Smith. "If you can stop them from scoring, your offense will eventually go down there and score some goals. The fact that we held them to one goal [into the fourth quarter] is absolutely amazing. We've been working on defense for so long — all season, really. It's really great that it paid off in this game tonight.

"I've been playing three years [as a] varsity starter, and [Newport Harbor] has come out hard and won. This year, we were ready for it. We were ready to go this time."

The Sailors will try to regroup. Coach Bill Barnett said the focus will shift to what becomes a key game against Edison on Feb. 2. Both the Sailors and Chargers are now 2-1 in league.

But it was clear that this loss would sting a little.

"This has always been a life-or-death sort of game," Obenauer said. "It's our seeding for CIF, and CIF is everything. First, you have to get league.

"Our whole team is really bummed. We definitely wanted to give them a better game than we did, but I have to give Los Alamitos props. They were on."

Senior goalie Sarah Wilkey had 10 saves and three steals for Newport Harbor.

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