A fan brought a sign to Saturday’s CIF Southern Section Division 1 girls’ water polo quarterfinal playoff game at Newport Harbor High.
“We’re Number Seven! (Yeah right),” the sign read.
The host Sailors, indeed seeded No. 7, were playing host to No. 2 Foothill. But after a late-season slide, the Sailors were able to put together a big “upset” victory. Junior Ellie Reid scored the game-winning power-play goal as Newport won, 5-4.
So is it an upset that the Sailors are a game away from their third straight Division 1 title match appearance?
“For me, seedings and rankings are just a number,” Newport senior Heidi Fults said. “Everything always plays out in the end. To be able to show people that us being seeded seventh should not have happened, that was something that drove us so much.”
Motivation will not be in short supply Wednesday night, either. No. 7 Newport Harbor meets No. 6 Santa Barbara in a semifinal match at 5 p.m., at Irvine’s Woollett Aquatics Center.
After springing their own big win Saturday, most of the Sailors went to Corona del Mar High. There, they saw the Dons upset No. 3 CdM, 10-9 in sudden-death overtime, in an epic match.
Another Battle of the Bay match was put on hold. Instead, Newport Harbor (22-7) will tangle with Santa Barbara (20-9) in the semifinals for the second straight year.
That might not be a bad thing, said Sailors senior Christina O’Beck, who leads her team with 63 goals scored.
“We knew that no matter who won [the CdM-Santa Barbara game], this game on Wednesday would be so hard,” O’Beck said. “But Santa Barbara is so different than CdM for us. [CdM Coach] Ross [Sinclair] used to coach us [in age group], and we know how amazing of a coach Ross is, and we know that he would have strategically shut our best players down. For Santa Barbara, even though we’ve played them, they don’t know us as well. We can just play our game, where with CdM, it’s more of a mental game.
“I still think it’s going to be just as hard of a game, especially since they beat CdM and we just lost to CdM recently. But I feel like it just gives us a little bit more hope, that we don’t have to go in thinking it’s going to be a mental rivalry game.”
The Sailors and Dons have met just once this season, and it was tight. Newport junior Kate Pipkin scored the game-winning goal with 10 seconds left as the Sailors prevailed, 9-8, in a quarterfinal match at the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions. Prior to Pipkin’s goal, Santa Barbara never trailed in the game.
Newport Harbor upset top-seeded Santa Barbara, 8-5, last year in the Division 1 semifinals, but both teams graduated several top seniors. Now seniors like Anna Brummett, Betsy Hendrix and Jessica Gaffney lead Santa Barbara. Brummett earned all-tournament team recognition at the TOC, while Gaffney was all-tournament team at the Irvine Southern California Championships.
But others also have stepped up. It was a sophomore, Kristina Garcia, who led Santa Barbara with four goals in the quarterfinal win over CdM. And another sophomore, Jessie Brummett, scored the game-winning goal.
Santa Barbara is trying to make its first CIF final since 2008, when the Dons lost the Division II title match to rival Dos Pueblos.
Prediction: Newport Harbor 7, Santa Barbara 5