Sailors step up, prevail

CORONA DEL MAR — Sitting beside coaches Bill Barnett and Brian Melstrom, Maddy McLaren yelled encouragement to her Newport Harbor High girls' water polo teammates.

She could pass for a coach herself Friday night — a coach with a fractured rib, bruised collarbone and her right arm in a sling.

McLaren missed the Sailors' third matchup of the season against Back Bay rival Corona del Mar due to injury, but the Sailors worked with what they had.

They couldn't be too surprised after beating CdM for the third time.

An inspired effort helped fourth-seeded Newport Harbor win the Irvine Southern California Championships quarterfinal, 7-4, Friday night at CdM. The Sailors will play top-seeded Dos Pueblos in a semifinal today at 10 a.m. at Irvine's Woollett Aquatics Center.

"We really had nothing to lose," said senior Kailyn Obenauer, who scored a game-high three goals. "We had one of our starters out, so we had to step up. We had no choice."

McLaren was hurt in the fourth quarter of Thursday's second-round win over El Toro. She said she hopes to be back within two weeks.

She's the team's leading scorer and one of its better defenders. She also scored five goals the last time the Sailors beat CdM, by the same 7-4 score in the quarterfinals of the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions.

This time, she watched as the Sailors (19-4) put on an impressive defensive display against the Sea Kings (16-6). They switched it up from a press defense to a drop, forcing CdM to try to win the game from the outside. The Sea Kings couldn't, with just two goals deep into the fourth quarter.

Plenty of shots hit the post in the first half, but Newport Harbor nursed a 3-2 halftime lead behind two outside shots from senior Mary Rose Wight. Then came the decisive third quarter.

Newport sophomore Elissia Schilling scored on her specialty, a back-hander from set. Then junior Presley Pender got into a two-on-one situation on a counter, keeping the ball and sneaking it into the right corner of the goal.

After two power-play goals from Obenauer, the score was 7-2 and the rout was on.

"We had a big third quarter offensively," Barnett said. "That's what really helped … Under the circumstances of not having our best player here, I think the whole team stepped up and played really well. They rose to the occasion."

CdM tried to rally when sophomore Cassidy Papa scored twice in a minute, the second goal coming with 1:57 left in the game. CdM junior Diana Murphy had a good look from the left with a minute to go, but UCLA-bound Newport goalie Sarah Wilkey got her fingertip on it and the ball caromed off the right post.

Wilkey again came up big with 13 saves, including one on a penalty shot. She made sure the Sailors won in their rival's pool for the second time this season.

"Beating CdM three times in a row is definitely something to be proud of," Wilkey said. "It feels good to beat a team at their own pool. [McLaren's absence] probably gave them a false sense of confidence, but in the end we're the stronger team. And it showed."

Corona del Mar, which had an eight-game winning streak snapped, plays Vista today at 8 a.m. at Irvine High in a fifth-place semifinal. Coach Sam Bailey had a long meeting with his team after the loss, and junior Pippa Saunders said one of the things he pointed out to them was that they only converted four of their 20 shots.

CdM was also just two for eight on the power play; Newport Harbor was three for six.

"I got two looks at the goal that barred out," Papa said. "Pippa got two looks at the goal that barred out. Everyone was shooting. All the opportunities were there. Six-on-five is what a big game is going to come down to, and in the end we couldn't execute."

The Sailors executed just fine.

Now comes the tricky part, avoiding a flat performance in a morning game against Dos Pueblos.

The scenario is similar to the Santa Barbara TOC three weeks ago, when the Sailors topped CdM in a quarterfinal but lost, 13-6, to the Chargers the next morning.

"We're not going to have this game get to our heads," Obenauer said. "We need to go out and play just as hard as we played this game — maybe even harder — against Dos Pueblos."

Wight, who has said she's not a morning person, has a plan.

"I think I might hype up on coffee with [Wilkey]," she said. "She can come over and we'll use our espresso machine."

Laguna Beach, which upset No. 2-seeded Los Alamitos, plays Santa Barbara in the other tournament semifinal.

The championship game is scheduled for 3 p.m. today, also at Irvine High.

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