Sailors beat Los Al in five again

NEWPORT BEACH — Newport Harbor High survived Round 2 against rival Los Alamitos.

The Sailors and Griffins went the distance again in a Sunset League boys' volleyball match. The Griffins tried to move closer to second place on Tuesday, but host Newport Harbor gave itself a chance to defend its league title with a 22-25, 25-15, 21-25, 25-16, 15-11 victory.

Next for the Sailors (20-7, 7-1 in league) is a crucial match at home against Huntington Beach on Friday at 5:45 p.m. This is their best shot to earn a share of the league crown with the first-place Oilers, who haven't dropped a league match.

No team in league has taken a set against Huntington Beach (19-3, 8-0), ranked No. 6 in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 coaches' poll. The task of being the first to knock off the Oilers belongs to No. 10 Newport Harbor.

"We're going to get opportunities to score. Against a team like Huntington, there's a lot less of those because of how good [the Oilers] are," said Steve Astor, the first-year head coach at Newport Harbor. "But when we get [opportunities to score], if we can convert them, that's how we beat them.

"They're going to have some great plays. They're going to hit the ball straight down a few times, but you kind of have to hang around."

Finishing atop the league is important for the Sailors, who have usually done so without losing a league match in three of the past four seasons.

They have lost once in league this season. Yet, they kept their league title hopes alive by outlasting Los Alamitos (18-8, 4-4).

The start of the match played out like the first meeting between these two programs. The Griffins won the opening set, but then the Sailors made sure to even the match.

There was no way they wanted to climb back from a two-set deficit like they had to at Los Alamitos last month and win in five.

The Sailors and Griffins traded off beating each other this time around.

The big set to Astor was the fourth. The Sailors trailed, 2-1, in sets. After the two teams changed benches, Astor reminded his team of an edge.

"This is what we're kind of made for. This is why all that conditioning pays off," Astor said.

Right away in the fourth set Newport Harbor jumped out in front.

Clay Carr and Kevin Rakestraw, the Sailors' biggest threats, pounded the ball and the Sailors went ahead by as many as nine points twice.

Carr led Newport Harbor with 18 kills and Rakestraw contributed 14 kills.

Rakestraw got Newport Harbor off to a strong beginning in the fifth set. The 6-foot-11 junior hammered the set's first two kills. Then the player who usually sets up Rakestraw surprised the Griffins with a shot of his own.

Connor Leggett recorded a kill. Leggett, who collected 35 assists, went back to work as a setter, with the Sailors and Griffins going back and forth.

Eight times the teams were even in the decisive set.

Carr broke the last tie with his 18th kill. The Sailors took a 12-11 lead and never looked back, closing things out on a 4-0 run.

Peirce Ward notched one of his eight kills during the spurt in which the Griffins missed wide and hit the net, costly mistakes.

"It's a huge win for us," said Astor, adding that his team must win its last two league matches, Friday at home against Huntington Beach and next week at Fountain Valley for a chance to split the title.

"[The Griffins have] gotten a lot better since the last time we played. They play us really tough. We stopped them enough at the end. It was pretty hard to stop those guys."

Astor's Sailors will now try to stop the Oilers.

Twitter: @DCPenaloza

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