GOLETA — For the second time this season, a Corona del Mar High girls' water polo game came down to a fraction of a second at the end of regulation.
Dos Pueblos senior Kodi Hill, who had led the Chargers' stirring second-half rally, was a split-second away from ending it all Saturday. Not just the game, but the Sea Kings' season.
She was a blink of the eye from shocking top-seeded CdM and keeping alive Dos Pueblos' quest for a fourth straight CIF Southern Section Division 1 title. But, in a tie game, Hill's goal into the left corner of the net at the end of regulation was waved off. The referees ruled she had shot it just after the buzzer.
For that brief moment, CdM's players thought their season could have ended. It stunned the player who provided the first split-second moment, when she scored full-court at the end of the Battle of the Bay.
Almost being on the other side isn't as fun.
"I don't ever want to feel like that again," CdM senior goalie Alex Musselman said, repeating herself for emphasis. "Ever. Ever."
But the Sea Kings made sure they made the most of overtime in the quarterfinal match.
Cassidy Papa, Ally McCormick and Diana Murphy scored in overtime as the Sea Kings pulled away and won, 9-6, at Dos Pueblos High. CdM will play Foothill in a Division 1 semifinal at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday at Irvine's Woollett Aquatics Center. The Sea Kings beat Foothill, 11-8, in the semifinals of the Irvine Southern California Championships on Feb. 4.
Corona del Mar (27-2), searching for its first Division 1 title, is in at least the CIF semifinals for the 13th straight year. But don't ask Coach Sam Bailey about a changing of the guard after his team accomplished something no team has done in five years — taking down Dos Pueblos in the playoffs. The Chargers won the Division 2 crown in 2008 before rattling off three straight Division 1 titles.
As he does, Bailey put things in perspective. The Sea Kings are still focused on their ultimate goal.
"Dos Pueblos is still on top," Bailey said. "How many D1 championships did they win? This is a quarterfinal matchup. Winning the championship is a whole lot different than making it to the semis."
Dos Pueblos Coach Chris Parrish filed a protest after Saturday's game. Despite the fact that Hill's shot did appear to be just late, Parrish said that the referees did not blow their whistles to end regulation, instead relying on the buzzer.
"Their discretion took away the goal that would have won the game for us," said Parrish, still a bit worked up after discussing the situation with the two referees. "They both admitted they didn't blow a whistle ... It's a technicality and a rule. I'm not trying to steal a victory away from Corona del Mar; I'm trying to preserve a little bit of the season. I'm not even arguing. I'm just asking for an explanation."
Parrish admitted the protest was unlikely to succeed. He said it would be reviewed by the head official, Don Holbrook.
CdM's players were forced to wait on the deck in their suits after the game, as Bailey and Parrish talked to the officials. As Bailey walked back over to his team, he said two words that made the girls happy.
"Game over," Bailey said.
Almost lost in the commotion was a breakout-type performance by CdM junior defender Genevieve Weed. She tied her season-high with four goals, all coming from the outside as Dos Pueblos played off of her and focused more on two meters.
"We've practiced a lot of shooting, just keeping it on goal," Weed said. "There's no way you can make it if you miss the cage."
Weed didn't miss in the first half, scoring three goals. CdM had a 5-2 halftime lead. The Sea Kings appeared to be ready to head back to Orange County in comfortable fashion, especially since one of Dos Pueblos' top scorers, sophomore Shannon Cleary, had already fouled out.
Not so fast. It's hard to dethrone a champion, and Dos Pueblos wasn't about to roll over.
Hill and Jamie Neushul led a second-half comeback, and CdM went dry offensively. The Chargers (17-12) tied the score at 5-5 with 3:56 left in regulation, when Hill scored cross-cage.
"[Hill's] play speaks for itself," Parrish said of his senior, who also had four steals. "We go down a starter, and she essentially takes the role of like three other girls. She's incredible. She's, in my determination, the best player in high school water polo."
Weed scored her fourth goal soon after to give CdM a 6-5 lead. But Neushul scored on a counterattack pass from goalie Britten Vilander, knotting the score again with 2:44 to play.
Vilander consistently made plays at the end of regulation. Murphy had two good looks from center in the final 20 seconds, but Vilander denied each one. Parrish pumped his fist on the sideline and called timeout with 12 seconds to play, setting up the controversial end of regulation.
McCormick, who had two goals along with fellow junior Cassidy Papa (four steals), said CdM definitely was fired up in the extra session.
"I think we just tried to remember that we're playing for each other," McCormick said. "Everything we've worked for, we didn't want to [lose it]. We kind of had a feeling of losing it all, a couple minutes earlier after the fourth. I think we were just so motivated. That really just fired us up."
Papa struck from about six meters just 51 seconds into the first overtime. In the second three-minute overtime, McCormick scored on a quick backhander after a pass from CdM senior Pippa Saunders, flicking the ball into the cage with her wrist.
Bailey kept yelling "Patience!" when CdM got the ball back with just more than a minute left. Instead, Murphy quickly fired in a goal from five meters, making it 9-6 CdM with 1:17 left to play.
After not being able to exhale for a while, the CdM parents just laughed. They knew the Sea Kings were on their way to the semifinals.
"I think we finally put everything together," said Papa, who added to her team-leading goal tally of 79 goals. "The overtime showed how we should have played the whole game. It showed a lot of our character, how we're able to do that."
Musselman made 15 saves for the Sea Kings, who played much of the second half with several starters in foul trouble. Nobody fouled out.
At this point, nobody can say the Sea Kings aren't battle tested. Wednesday night should be another tough match for CdM.
In this crazy year of Division 1 water polo, maybe it again will go down to the final split-second.
"We've just got to put the past behind us and prepare for the semifinals," Papa said. "It's kind of been the theme. Nothing in the past really matters anymore. Every game is a championship game."