Sailors’ magic run ends

IRVINE — Newport Harbor High girls’ lacrosse coach Matt Armstrong still remembers talking with Foothill coach Kate Hick after the Sailors played the Knights in a nonleague game.

The Knights won by 10 goals, but Hick told Armstrong that she saw the Sailors as a sleeper team in Orange County.

So, when No. 10-seeded Newport Harbor earned upset wins at No. 7 San Juan Hills and No. 2 St. Margaret’s in the first two rounds of the U.S. Lacrosse Southern Section South Division playoffs, Hick wasn’t necessarily surprised.

“Nobody expected us to do that except for [assistant coach] Kaleigh [Gibbons] and me,” Armstrong said. “And maybe Kate Hick.”

On Saturday, the Sailors and the Knights met again with more on the line in the South Division (Orange County) semifinals.

A team hungry to show it belonged among Orange County’s elite ran into a goalie hungry to help her team earn back to back Orange County titles.

USC-bound Foothill senior goalie Hannah Upshaw shined as the No. 3-seeded Knights beat the upstart Sailors, 5-1, at Irvine High to end Newport Harbor’s season.

Upshaw made a handful of tough saves, especially in the second half, for the Knights (13-8). She helped her team return to the South Division title game, where it will meet top-seeded Mater Dei on Wednesday at Trabuco Hills High. The Monarchs defeated the other Back Bay program, CdM, by a 12-7 score in the first semifinal on Saturday.

Armstrong, a former goalie himself, has a lot of respect for Upshaw.

“She’s probably the best goalie in Orange County, and she showed it today,” Armstrong said. “There were definitely three or four saves she made that I think most other goalies would have let in. A few times we made her look good. We knew where we wanted to shoot on her, and we weren’t quite getting it there, but kudos to her.”

Upshaw and a defense also anchored by junior Allison Parkhill and senior Emily Coffee held Newport Harbor (12-7), making its first playoff semifinal appearance, to a season-low one goal. Junior co-captain Katie Hendrix made it happen midway through the first half. On the defensive end she caused a turnover, and on the offensive end she ran in and scored to tie the game, 1-1, with 14:17 remaining in the half.

Foothill got a free position goal from Carly Escalette and a goal from freshman Ava Brand to regain the lead at 3-1. The Knights then spent much of the end of the half in the Newport end, the Sailors unable to clear the ball.

Senior goalie Hannah Sanders, who had a strong nine saves in the game, made a couple of big ones in the extended possession for the Knights. She picked up a ground ball with 10 seconds remaining. Under pressure, the clearing pass was stolen. The Foothill player broke open in front of the goal before a check by Newport senior defender Jordan Rausch just before the halftime buzzer earned a yellow card.

“I felt like a yellow was better than a goal, at that point,” Rausch said.

Hendrix agreed.

“Going into halftime 3-1 is totally different than going into halftime 4-1,” she said. “The difference between two and three goals is so mentally different, so that was the right play.”

But Foothill senior Meridian Lee scored with 19:56 remaining to make it 4-1, Knights. Upshaw sealed the deal after that, making big saves on Newport senior co-captain Rylie Siegfried on a free position shot, then Hendrix. Newport junior Heather Roberts had a free position from the left with seven minutes left, and Upshaw crouched to get the low shot.

“I always tell her she’s a scouting report,” Hick said. “If I’m a coach and I’m going to scout us, I start and stop at Hannah. She’s a game-changer.”

Sophomore Adena Rothbard had two draw controls for Newport Harbor, and Siegfried led the Sailors with three ground balls while Caitlin Dwyer and Jillian Rosten had two each.

The defense led by Rausch, Rosten, Maxine Aiello and Hayden Allen was impressive. Newport Harbor became the first Orange County team this season to hold Foothill to fewer than seven goals.

“I’ve been waiting for doubt to creep in all week, and it never has,” Armstrong said. “Even up until the last 10 minutes of this game, I really thought we would put together a run and give them a little bit better game at the end. We didn’t quite get there, but I never doubted this team. They never gave me cause to doubt.”

Armstrong was proud of what he called a “landmark” year for the Sailors. They won the outright Century SE League title — the first outright league title in program history — and advanced to the playoff semifinals for the first time.

“We peaked at the right time,” he said. “This week has been amazing for them, for me, for the whole team. There are really no words to describe it.”

Rausch had some to describe her four years in the program, which have seen a steady growth.

“Making it this far has been phenomenal,” she said. “No. 10 making it to the top four? Armstrong said we’ve been the talk of Orange County recently, and I agree. It’s just great that we made it this far. It definitely felt good my senior year to go out on this note.”