Sailors' comeback falls short in semis

IRVINE — El Toro High senior goalie Garrett Danner called it a risk.

Newport Harbor Coach Robert Lynn called it a gamble.

When Danner came out of the cage in the closing seconds of Wednesday night's CIF Southern Section Division I semifinal match, there were two possible outcomes.

The first was that the Sailors' Dan Stevens would beat Danner in the closing seconds for the second time this year, possibly forcing overtime. The second was that Danner would steal the ball, helping ensure a Chargers victory.

El Toro Coach Don Stoll has called Danner the best goalie he's had in a coaching career that spans more than four decades. His senior came up with a clutch play.

Danner stole the ball with 12 seconds left as El Toro hung on to end the Sailors' season, 10-9, at Woollett Aquatics Center.

"I knew I had to take the risk, come out and get it away," said Danner, who had 11 saves in helping the Chargers advance to the final for the fourth straight year. "It worked out well for us. I'm used to coming out of the cage a lot, I like to come out of the cage, and I just knew that was my best bet. When he's that close, not much I can do to block that shot."

No. 3-seeded El Toro (28-3) advances to Saturday night's title match against top-seeded defending champion Mater Dei. The Monarchs bested Loyola, 19-5, in the other semifinal.

The Sailors ran a play coming out of a timeout in the final 30 seconds. Lynn said he wanted an exclusion called as junior center Andrew Silvers worked for position, but it wasn't called. Stevens got open near the left post, but Danner came over and stole it.

"[Danner] gambled and he won, so good for him," Lynn said. "He played a great game, and his gamble paid off on that last play."

No. 2-seeded Newport Harbor (25-2) had an 18-game winning streak snapped. The streak included a victory over El Toro, by the same 10-9 score, in the teams' previous meeting Oct. 15. In that one, Stevens' counterattack goal with 15 seconds left — past a charging Danner — was the game-winner.

The Sailors couldn't be too worked up about Wednesday's last play. A slow start hurt even more.

El Toro took a 5-1 lead late in the second quarter, before the Sailors' Ryan Fowler and Curtis Fink scored to cut the deficit in half by intermission.

"We came out [down] 5-1, so there's the whole game right there," Lynn said. "[We were] not playing defense, not shot-blocking. And to tell you the truth, El Toro was shooting lights-out. Every time they shot the ball it was bar-in, bar-in, bar-in. [El Toro senior Eric Silcock] hurt us bad. He beat our block every time, and our goalie was not there."

Silcock scored three goals, all from the perimeter. Senior Joey Fuentes also netted three goals for the Chargers.

Newport Harbor struggled in the first half on its six-on-five. The Sailors finished just one for six on their man-advantage; South Coast League champion El Toro was scoreless in four opportunities.

"We rushed it," Lynn said. "We were not attacking the way we should have been attacking … I don't want to say we were not ready, but we didn't adjust to the pressure as well. We came out [down] 5-1, and they came out really solid."

The Sailors cut the deficit to a single goal five different times in the second half, but could never tie the score. The last time they got close was when senior Farrel South blasted two rocket shots in midway through the fourth quarter. The second one, a skip shot from the right wing, brought Newport Harbor within 10-9 with 2:45 left in regulation.

Neither team could score again. Newport Harbor goalie Koby Yokota (11 saves) came up with two big stuffs late, stopping El Toro's Logan Chappell on a counter before grabbing a lob shot from Silcock in the final minutes.

The Sailors were called for an offensive foul with a minute left. A shot from El Toro junior Joey Colton (two goals) was off the left post after that, giving the Sailors one more opportunity.

Danner stole it away.

"We were able to steal the ball," Danner said. "We stuck to the game plan, which was press their best shooters and hopefully try to drop back to set off them. Our shot blockers took away their side, and I took away the rest of the cage. It worked out very well."

Fowler, Silvers and South each had two goals to lead the Sailors, and Silvers had three steals to lead all players. Fink, Stevens and Preston Lee also scored for Newport Harbor.

For the Sunset League champion Sailors, it was a disappointing end to a memorable season under their first-year coach Lynn.

"We came back for victory against Loyola, we came back for victory against El Toro," Lynn said. "We were trying to pull it off again. It was just a little too late."

Mater Dei features Newport Beach residents Jon and James Walters, Anthony Daboub, Bobby Gordon, Carter Yonkers and Nick Silvers. The Monarchs (30-0) take a CIF Southern Section-record 47-match winning streak into Saturday night.

Twitter: @mjszabo

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