Tars take title

HUNTINGTON BEACH β€” The Battle of the Bay came seven weeks before the regularly scheduled high school boys' volleyball match.

Newport Harbor and Corona del Mar met on a neutral site Monday. They played for a title, not for Back Bay supremacy, but for first place of Orange County.

The first matchup between the rivals ended rather quickly, stunning CdM Coach Steve Conti. The other coach, Steve Astor, wasn't surprised his second-seeded Sailors upset the top-seeded Sea Kings, 25-20, 27-25, in the Orange County Championships Division 1 finale at Edison High.

Upset wasn't how Astor, in his first season in charge of the Sailors, wanted to describe the best-of-three outcome.

"Upset?" Astor said when someone asked him if the Sailors pulled off an upset. "We're both pretty good teams."

Newport Harbor looked better than CdM, the defending ESPN RISE national champion, which has a star in senior outside hitter Parker Brown.

Astor is the first to point out that he doesn't have a player the caliber of Brown, who can take over a match. Heck, his Sailors aren't even ranked in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 poll.

They deserve to crack the top 10 after beating CdM, ranked No. 2 in Division 2.

What separated the Sailors (10-4) from CdM (9-4) to Conti was easy. The Sailors limited their mistakes, served well and they hustled.

The last one stuck out to Conti, who left the gym disappointed with his team's showing.

"A good example, we take a good swing and they dig a ball to the back of the gym and they have two guys flying for it [near the trash can]. And we have balls that we got touches on that we let drop in the middle of the court," Conti said. "They're running down balls that are 30 feet away and we're letting balls drop that are five feet away."

One of the players running around for Newport Harbor turned out to be the MVP of the three-day tournament.

Max Richley plays libero. He does all the dirty work, which goes unnoticed a lot. When you're playing with 6-foot-11 and 6-5 middle blockers like Kevin Rakestraw and Clay Carr, a 5-8 senior like Richley is often overlooked.

But he stood out in the biggest match in the tournament, helping the Sailors claim the crown after losing it last season. Richley clinched it with a service ace and the Sailors celebrated together.

That kind of unison put Newport Harbor on top. Richley had no idea the tournament gave out an MVP award, but he took the prize home.

The victory mattered a lot more to Richley, because he remembered how CdM beat Newport Harbor in the regular-season finale in the Battle of the Bay last year and how the setback affected the Sailors.

"There was a little bit of a let down," said Richley, who finished with two aces and three digs.

The team that is down now is CdM. How fast things can change.

The Sea Kings went into the finale on a high, having won the first five matches of the tournament. In the sixth match, the mistakes began to pile up, as CdM had 17 unforced errors in the opening set.

In a best-of-three format, if a team slips up in one set, it's a big deal.

The Sea Kings always seemed to be playing from behind. They managed to get going during a 6-0 run in the second set and took an 18-17 lead.

The lead didn't last long.

Rakestraw pounded one of his eight kills and Carr collected two of his nine kills to keep Newport Harbor ahead. Setter Connor Leggett fed the bigs, collecting 16 assists.

Brown tried to keep CdM in it, finishing with 18 kills, but the Sea Kings' mistakes continued. They committed back-to-back violations, setting up match point for Richley. And he finished the Sea Kings.

Round 2 is set for May 4 in a best-of-five match at Newport Harbor, unless the teams meet again at another tournament.

"Both teams are going to get a lot better," said Astor, whose team plays host to Manhattan Beach Mira Costa, ranked No. 3 in Division 1, on Tuesday at 6:15 p.m. "I told them to enjoy tonight, but let's focus on beating those Mustangs."

david.carrillo@latimes.com

Twitter: @DCPenaloza

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