Getting three sevens can be enough to win a sizable amount of money on a slot machine in Las Vegas.
For the Newport Harbor High girls’ water polo team, three upset wins as the No. 7 seed equals the jackpot.
The Sailors indeed entered the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs as the No. 7 seed after late-season losses to Foothill, Corona del Mar and Los Alamitos. But after beating No. 2 Foothill, 5-4, in the quarterfinals and No. 6 Santa Barbara, 11-10, in the semifinals, the Sailors find themselves in the Division 1 title match for the third straight year.
Newport Harbor plays top-seeded Laguna Beach for the title at 1 p.m. Saturday at Irvine’s Woollett Aquatics Center.
The last upset is the one that nobody is predicting. Laguna Beach is searching for its first Division 1 title, but this seems to be the Breakers’ year. Led by junior star Makenzie Fischer, who has scored 125 goals this year, Laguna Beach (29-1) won all three of the major tournaments this season. The Breakers enter Saturday’s match on a program-record 20-game winning streak.
Laguna Beach, which pulled away in the first half of its 12-5 Division 1 semifinal victory over Los Alamitos, is loaded. If it’s not Fischer beating you it’s her younger sister, Aria, a freshman who is second on the team with 78 goals. USC-bound senior Cara Borkovec (60 goals) and freshman Bella Baldridge (55) are other dangerous parts of the Breakers’ attack.
The Breakers also are 3-0 against Newport Harbor this year, each game more lopsided than the last. Laguna won, 11-8, for the Holiday Cup title on Jan. 4, and registered a 9-5 win in the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions title match on Jan. 18. The third game, a 13-1 shellacking on Jan. 24, was Newport Harbor’s worst loss in program history, though several Sailors were ravaged by sickness leading up to that contest.
Laguna Coach Ethan Damato said he expects Newport Coach Bill Barnett to have some tricks up his sleeve for the fourth meeting.
“I definitely don’t think he’s shown all his cards,” Damato said. “I’m expecting them to make adjustments ... I guess my job on the other side is to try to anticipate that. It’s a very fun chess game to be a part of, but ultimately it’s going to come down to the girls in the pool.”
Damato has reason to be confident about his team’s chances. And he doesn’t mind playing the title match in the early afternoon, as opposed to under the lights. The Laguna Beach Education Foundation has a dinner/dance fundraiser on Saturday night, which helped prompt the time change.
“I’ll play at 7 a.m. in a bathtub if we have to,” Damato said. “We want to win a CIF championship, and I think the girls are focused.”
Newport Harbor (23-7), which last won the crown in 2012, is trying for its sixth Division 1 title. Seniors Christina O’Beck and Heidi Fults lead the Sailors with 65 and 49 goals, respectively, but a big strength is in a defense led by senior goalie Cleo Harrington (160 saves) and junior keeper Carlee Kapana (169 saves).
The defense, which also features rising junior Rachel Whitelegge as a center defender, is stout. But Laguna still has averaged 11 goals per game in the teams’ three meetings this season. Makenzie Fischer has scored at least four goals each time, right around her season average of 4.8 goals per game.
“We know what we need to do — a.k.a. shutting down the Fischers,” said O’Beck, who realizes that the task is easier said than done. “We just haven’t done it yet.”
The start of the game likely will be key. In the teams’ last two matchups, Laguna Beach pulled away early. The Breakers took a 6-0 halftime lead at the TOC and an 8-0 halftime advantage in the last nonleague game.
Yet, teams have shown that they can hang with the Breakers. Foothill handed Laguna its only loss, 8-7, in a nonleague game Jan. 10. A week later, Santa Margarita pushed the Breakers, leading in the second half before falling, 7-5, in a TOC quarterfinal match.
Baldridge did not play in the Santa Margarita game or the third Newport game, due to a concussion. She’s back now. Both teams appear at full strength heading into their final game of the season.
“I think we’ve let them intimidate us, to the point where the last two times we’ve played them, we gave up before we’ve gotten in the pool,” O’Beck said. “But it’s different this time. We have a whole different mindset, a different attitude. CIF’s a whole different ball game.”
How strong can the Sailors come out? For those looking for a reason to believe, two starters celebrate their birthday this weekend. Junior left-hander Ellie Reid turns 17 on Saturday. Harrington celebrated her 18th birthday on Friday.
A CIF title would make a great birthday present. Newport Harbor will see if it can come up with that last lucky No. 7.
Prediction: Laguna Beach 10, Newport Harbor 6