Sailors into SoCal semis

IRVINE — The Newport Harbor High girls' water polo team made a bit of a statement Friday night at Woollett Aquatics Center.

Sure, opposing teams can try to drop off the Sailors' perimeter players and focus on emerging center Elissia Schilling.

But they do so at their own risk.

Newport consistently made Dos Pueblos pay for using such a strategy in the quarterfinals of the Irvine Southern California Championships. The Sailors' collective outside shot was on the mark in a 14-11 victory over the defending tournament champions.

Second-seeded Newport Harbor (19-4) plays sixth-seeded Laguna Beach in a semifinal match at 11 a.m. Saturday, back at Woollett. The Breakers outlasted Los Alamitos, 9-8, in another quarterfinal Friday.

Dos Pueblos (15-8) , the three-time defending CIF Southern Section Division I champion, is young but still dangerous this year with players like junior Jamie Neushul and senior Kodi Hill. But the Sailors came out of the gates scorching hot.

They built a 4-0 lead in the opening quarter after goals by Schilling, Sophie Leveque, Maddy McLaren and Carly Christian. The Chargers fumbled away opportunities in the first quarter, unable to convert three different power-play chances on a pass off the end line, a shot wide of the cage and a steal by McLaren.

Newport Harbor, which has won eight straight matches, took an 8-4 lead into halftime. Of the eight goals, only one came from set.

"We're really well-balanced, especially when they drop off of [set]," said Peterson, who scored twice and had a team-high four steals. "Some teams may not think we have very strong shooters from the outside, but when they drop, a lot of our players step up. We can shoot from the outside really well."

Newport Harbor started the second half in a similar fashion to the first. Leveque buried a shot from seven meters, then McLaren skipped in another one from the outside. After Christian took Presley Pender's pass and finished a strong drive at the far post, the Sailors had suddenly opened up an 11-4 advantage.

"Our biggest focus was to come out strong in the third quarter," said McLaren, who scored twice and also had a pair of steals. "Not only because we've been up and lost games before, but because we know that Dos Pueblos is a team that has been down and won games before. Neither of those situations are working in our favor, so we tried extra hard to come out [strong] in the third quarter.

"When teams come back on us in the third quarter, it's mostly because our offense starts to dry up. That was our biggest focus, to keep attacking and to not let up offensively."

Schilling was still a factor. She scored all three of her goals on backhands from two meters. The last one came with 4:51 left in the fourth quarter, giving Newport a 14-8 lead.

The Chargers tried to respond. Shannon Cleary, Neushul and Ari St. Oegger scored consecutive goals to bring them closer. But sophomore goalie Cleo Harrington, who made just five saves, had three of them in the closing minutes to help Harbor hang on.

Christian scored a game-high four goals for the Sailors, and Leveque added three. Both players had two steals for the Sailors, as did junior Allyson Hall.

Neushul led all players with five goals, including one on a penalty shot.

Now the Sailors' focus switches to Saturday morning — at least McLaren said she hopes so. On Saturday night Newport Harbor has its winter formal dance at Knott's Berry Farm.

"I mean, we're a group of 17-year-old girls," McLaren said. "Everyone's getting excited and talking about the dance, but we're trying to focus on the tournament and then the dance."

Laguna Beach will be no pushover in the semifinals, and the Breakers should be very motivated. Newport Harbor has beaten Laguna twice this year, both times in sudden-death overtime. Schilling scored both of the game-winners.

"Imagine losing two games in overtime," McLaren said. "You'd be so fired up. We have to almost put their energy into our team. Imagine if we were in that situation, how fired up we would be. We have to match their energy. I think we definitely will."

Corona del Mar plays Foothill in the other semifinal. The tournament championship game is scheduled for 3 p.m. at Woollett.

Twitter: @mjszabo

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