Girls' Water Polo: Sea Kings stunned in epic game

The last time that the Corona del Mar High girls' water polo team played Santa Barbara, CdM sophomore Maddie Musselman burned the Dons.

She scored five goals in the Irvine Southern California Championships quarterfinal game Feb. 7, matching Santa Barbara's total by herself.

Santa Barbara Coach Mark Walsh dedicated more defensive attention to Musselman in the second meeting Saturday, in a CIF Southern Section Division 1 quarterfinal game at CdM.

Musselman still almost killed the Dons. Her third goal, off a foul, gave CdM a one-goal lead with 12 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

Walsh called timeout. His team found a way to battle back, as senior Jessica Gaffney scored a rebound goal with four seconds left to send it to overtime.

Santa Barbara again battled back in overtime after falling behind by two goals. That was a common theme in the classic, back-and-forth struggle. The Dons finally were rewarded.

Sophomore Jessie Brummett scored a six-on-five goal from up top with 31 seconds left in sudden-death overtime, as Santa Barbara completed a stunning 10-9 upset victory that ended the No. 3-seeded Sea Kings' season.

The Back Bay CIF semifinal game was denied. Instead, it is Santa Barbara (20-9) that moves on to play Newport Harbor in the semifinals on Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Irvine's Woollett Aquatics Center. Top-seeded Laguna Beach plays Los Alamitos in the second semifinal at 7 p.m.

"These girls have a lot of heart," Walsh said after his team earned its second straight semifinal appearance. "They're not going to the biggest colleges, but they played hard and they played as a team.

"For the most part, our defense was great all game. They're so difficult to defend with Maddie on the one-two side. She can draw fouls at five [meters], she can get open on drives, she can post up. You have to basically commit two players to her, and their center [Marina Coskinas] is so good, you have to commit two girls to her. A lot of times we had to leave girls wide open and hope they missed, or hope our goalie made a save. They have so many good players, you have to kind of pick your poison. Last time we played them, Maddie went off and scored a bunch, so we tried to make somebody else beat us ... We committed a second girl to Maddie this time much more than we did the previous time."

It was a brutal loss for CdM (24-5), which had a 14-year streak of making at least the CIF semifinals snapped. In Saturday's contest, Santa Barbara led for just 30 seconds all game prior to the winning goal.

That lead came when Santa Barbara sophomore Kristina Garcia, who led everyone with four goals, scored with 1:08 left in the fourth quarter. After the game, Walsh said to CdM Coach Ross Sinclair that Garcia was his "secret weapon."

Santa Barbara got a steal with just less than a minute to go, but an offensive foul hurt the Dons. It allowed CdM to get an easy counterattack, and senior Bobbi Hoose put it away to tie the score at 6-6 with 38 seconds left. Coskinas got a steal on the ensuing Santa Barbara possession, and Musselman rose and scored off the foul with 12 seconds left.

But then Santa Barbara caught a break, even after Jessie Brummett's shot was blocked by CdM goalie Heidi Ritner, because Gaffney scored on the rebound with just four seconds to go. Extra time was needed.

CdM junior Grace Morgan, who also scored three goals, provided a spark in overtime. She scored once in each of the three-minute overtime periods, yet the Dons again rallied. First it was Betsy Hendrix scoring a six-on-five goal with 1:37 left in the second overtime, then Anna Brummett scored from center with 42 seconds left.

Ritner (11 saves) made a big stuff on Garcia in the closing seconds of the second overtime, setting up the sudden-death scenario. Santa Barbara senior Erin McGeoy earned an exclusion late in the first sudden-death period, and the Dons worked for a winning goal. Morgan made a big field block, but the Dons recovered possession and played the ball back to Brummett up top.

She made the most of it. She said it felt good, especially after Santa Barbara lost in overtime to San Marcos last week, 13-12, to force a shared Channel League title.

"This time we came out on the winning side," Brummett said. "It's such a great feeling ... There was a lot of shot blockers around the goal and on the side, so the best [shot] is either skip low or right over her head. I just went over [Ritner's] head and hoped it would go through."

Sinclair, who talked animatedly to one of the referees after the final whistle, found the loss tough to take.

"I told the girls, our season is not defined by one loss like this," Sinclair said. "From where we were at the beginning to where we are now, we had a pretty good season. I think this is the first time that we lost to someone that was ranked lower than us. It's a bummer that it comes at the end of the season in a do-or-die situation, but such is life, right? You live and learn, and you move forward. We'll be better next year because of this experience."

He kept the focus on next year after the game. As some CdM juniors walked past Sinclair on the CdM pool deck, he told them, "Next year begins now."

"I think the inexperience kind of showed in this game," he said. "I don't think we came out particularly well. It took us about a half to get going, but even then we were rushing things, playing pretty uncharacteristically I would say. We still almost got away with it, but we didn't, so back to the drawing board and back to preparing for next season. We'll be better next season, for sure.

"I don't think anyone enjoys losing. I certainly don't. This program's not used to it, and we're certainly not going to get used to it. We'll be back next year, and we'll be ready to roll again. You can count on that."

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