Sailors stay alive

IRVINE — It is very difficult to beat a good team four times in the same season.

That was what the Newport Harbor High girls' water polo team had to accomplish Wednesday night in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 semifinals.

Game-planning against the Sailors? That's something even more difficult.

On Wednesday night at Woollett Aquatics Center, it was the turn of juniors Allyson Hall and Avery Peterson to step up big. Boy, did they ever.

Each scored goals in overtime as the Sailors outlasted Laguna Beach, 7-6, to advance to Saturday night's final against Back Bay rival Corona del Mar, at 7:45 p.m. back at Woollett.

"It's definitely hard to come in and beat a team four times in a row, especially three in overtime," Peterson said. "But we knew that the team who was the most enthusiastic, the team that had the most energy was the one who was going to win. All of the CIF games are so close. It could go either way."

It was another epic battle between the No. 2-seeded Sailors (26-4) and No. 3 Breakers (23-7). Three of their four games have gone to overtime. Each time Newport Harbor has found a way to make sure the final result did go its way.

There has been no hotter team at the end of the season than the Sailors, who notched their 15th straight victory. The depth has a lot to do with it.

"They've got a lot of girls," Laguna Beach Coach Ethan Damato said. "You know, we tried to take Elissia [Schilling] out, I thought we did a good job there. We tried to keep [Maddy] McLaren off the scoreboard. We've done a good job with those two things when we've played them, but it's pick your poison. Someone's going to have to beat you in a game like this. Those girls stepped up for them today."

Schilling and McLaren combined for just one goal. But Peterson, who had a career-high six steals while playing defense against Laguna freshman phenom Makenzie Fischer, helped Newport go up in overtime.

She drove inside, taking the pass from senior Sophie Leveque before scoring on a lob with 1:44 left in the first three-minute overtime period.

Newport junior Carly Christian, who had a goal and drew three exclusions, fouled out with 2:30 left in the second overtime period. In came Hall, who had also scored earlier in the game.

"I didn't expect her to foul out," Hall said. "I was like, 'Oh geez.' I had to be ready. I just went in and tried my best."

Her best was a beautiful goal. She scored it on a spinning lob from the right side as the shot clock was running down, giving Newport Harbor a 7-5 advantage with 1:13 to play. Hall has just 20 goals this season, but four have come in the Sailors' last two playoff wins.

"[Tuesday] all I had worked on in set shots was lobs," Hall said. "I was like, 'I guess I'll just do a lob' ... I was really stressed out. I mean, we were only up by one. I was like, 'I have to make this.'"

Laguna tried to respond. Fischer scored after a miscommunication in front of the Sailors' goal resulted in a turnover, drawing the Breakers back within a goal with 53 seconds left to play.

Leveque's subsequent shot was tipped out of play by Laguna goalie Jenna Knott, which gave the Sailors the ball back with 24 seconds left. From there, they were able to play keepaway, earning their first Division 1 final appearance since 2010. They won the title over CdM in 2008.

Sophomore goalie Cleo Harrington made 17 saves for the Sailors. Senior captain Presley Pender had a stellar game with a goal, two steals and two assists.

Yoshi Andersen and Fischer led the Breakers with two goals each. Damato said Fischer was battling a 100-degree fever, but he also gave credit to Peterson for her solid defensive effort.

One of Andersen's goals came from half-tank at the first-quarter buzzer, giving the Breakers a 2-1 advantage. But Christian returned the favor at the second-quarter buzzer, scoring on a quick backhand to draw Newport within 4-3.

The Sailors led 5-4 after three quarters, but Laguna senior Melena Masson drew a penalty shot with 2:29 left in regulation. Andersen converted it, knotting the score again at 5-5.

It definitely wasn't easy for Newport Harbor.

"Their defense is very hard to crack," Sailors Coach Bill Barnett said. "We couldn't get them into the drop soon enough. We were having problems at two meters, getting someone established to force them to drop."

Barnett was asked which team he would rather play in the championship match.

"I don't care," he said. "We've made the finals, that's the important thing."

The Sailors found out later they'd play CdM for the fifth time this season. They are 1-3 this year against the Sea Kings, but won the last meeting in the final of the Irvine Southern California Championships.

Now CdM will be looking for that tough fourth win against Newport Harbor.

The Sailors have other plans.

Twitter: @mjszabo

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