Sailors are denied in five

NEWPORT BEACH — Outside of the Newport Harbor High gym, a woman gave Huntington Beach Coach Craig Pazanti two gifts.

She handed him special drinks.

"I don't know what it is," Pazanti said of the yellow liquid in the plastic bottles. "I don't ask either."

Pazanti likes the drink so much he could've bathed in it Friday night.

It was time for him and his boys' volleyball team to celebrate. The Oilers preferred a drink made of mangoes, peaches and oranges to Gatorade after they rallied to win the outright Sunset League title.

The Oilers killed any hope the defending-champion Sailors had in sharing the crown by winning 21-25, 21-25, 26-24, 25-20, 15-13 on the road.

Oh, the Sailors were so close to becoming the first team in league to knock off Huntington Beach. They took the first two sets and all they needed was another one to move into a first-place tie in league with the Oilers with one match left.

The Sailors never won again.

The last three sets went to Huntington Beach, which remained perfect in league. The Oilers also became the first team in league to sweep the two-match series against Newport Harbor since the Sailors rejoined the Sunset League five years ago.

The team Newport Harbor replaced in league back then was the Oilers. In their second season back in the Sunset League, the Oilers (20-3, 9-0 in league) are No. 1 again.

"I feel like after last year, they had a little bit of a chip on their shoulder to come out and perform this year," said Pazanti, whose team finished third in league last year. "They didn't want to be co-champions. They wanted to win the league outright."

At the start, the Oilers, ranked No. 6 in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 poll, sure didn't play as if they wanted to be alone atop the league.

Clary Carr, a 6-foot-5 outside hitter, and Kevin Rakestraw, a 6-11 middle blocker, stood in the way.

The Newport Harbor duo played a big part in the Oilers dropping the opening set.

No team in league had taken a set against the Oilers in the previous eight contests. They had swept every league opponent.

After two sets, Huntington Beach was on the verge of losing in three to the 10th-ranked Sailors (20-8, 7-2).

"I didn't say much after the first [set]," Pazanti said. "After the second set, we had a little more of a heart-to-heart [talk]."

Whatever Pazanti said, the Oilers responded.

The Sailors never let up in the last three sets, hanging with Huntington Beach throughout. Thirty-three times the score was even in the final three sets.

In the third set, Newport Harbor almost finished off the Oilers. Huntington Beach was on the brink of losing for the first time since March 13.

The Sailors had the visitors on the ropes after Blake Bell blocked a shot to give the Sailors match point at 24-23. Somehow, the Oilers rattled off the next three points to stay alive.

"The biggest thing for us was to weather the storm," Pazanti said. "Whether we won or lost the first set, that was irrelevant. It was more of can we just stay focused and stay in the match and not let them … blow us out. We managed to do that, even though we lost the second [set], we were competitive the whole time."

The Oilers are difficult to contain because they have so many weapons, led by Andrew TenBrink (11 kills), Edgar Palos (nine), Bert Peyton (nine), Zach Gates (nine) and Brendan Sander (nine).

The Sailors kept up with the five hitters. Setter Connor Leggett fed Carr and Rakestraw and the two led the way by pounding 22 and 13 kills, respectively.

The decisive fifth set went back and forth. No side went ahead by more than one, until Rakestraw gave Newport Harbor an 11-9 lead.

The Sailors took a 13-11 lead after a service error by the Oilers. Newport Harbor never scored again, as two of Carr's swings went wide and long, ending the Sailors' best chance to repeat as league champions.

"We just got to learn from this game and block everything out," said Newport Harbor Coach Steve Astor, whose team next week plays Fountain Valley in its last league match and Corona del Mar in the Battle of the Bay rivalry match, which closes out the regular season.

"Our goal was to win league. Ultimate goal is to win CIF. We got better today. We proved that we could play with elite teams."

Twitter: @DCPenaloza

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