Santa Margarita's Bella Baia, left, tries to shoot over Huntington Beach's Ally Long during the Division 1 wild-card round match at Santa Margarita on Tuesday.

Santa Margarita uses speed, patience to advance in playoffs


The caliber of water polo seemed higher than a wild-card match, often part of the underappreciated round of the playoffs.

“Amazing that this is a play-in game,” legendary ex-El Toro coach Don Stoll said Tuesday night during the Division 1 wild-card clash between the host Santa Margarita girls and Huntington Beach.

The Eagles, ranked seventh in Orange County, and the Oilers, who spent most of the winter ranked in the county, both played at a high level but Santa Margarita used a faster start and more patience on offense to post a 13-10 victory.

Santa Margarita (16-13) opened a 5-3 lead after the first and never trailed but also couldn’t shake the Oilers (17-9). Huntington Beach almost erased three five-goal deficits in the third before the Eagles closed strong to advance to Wednesday’s first-round match at Foothill.

“This was a good win for us,” said Santa Margarita coach Brian Weathersby, whose team earlier lost to the Oilers.

“Given that we’ve played pretty well the last part of the season, we’re a tough team to play. I’m looking forward to the matchup against Foothill.”

Santa Margarita used its passing to score twice in the final two minutes of the second period to open an 8-4 lead.

Lefty Riley Cunningham set up the first strike with a cross-pool pass to Lucia Carballo, who narrowly beat the shot clock with a goal off a post. Sam Loughlin later found Ava Perkins posting up just inside 5 meters and the freshman scored with 1:05 left in the half.

“We just played really well as a team and realized who was open,” said Cunningham, who had five assists, three steals and one goal.

Huntington Beach’s Julia Rozolis-Hill and Ally Long scored the first two goals of the fourth to trim Santa Margarita’s lead to 11-9 with just under five minutes left. But after an offensive exclusion at center against the Oilers, Santa Margarita’s patience showed again on Vicky Ochoa’s power-play strike on a pass from Bella Baia. The Eagles’ third conversion in as many attempts with the extra attacker gave Santa Margarita a 12-9 lead with four minutes left.

"It takes a lot of time in practice to get them to play like that," Weathersby said of his team's patience. "And it's a mindset."

Huntington Beach’s Lauren Smith drew five exclusions at center but the Oilers finished 2 for 8 with the extra attacker.

"Playoff inexperience," Oilers coach Mark Canner said of his team. "They're a good team. They just need to know it.”

Santa Margarita balanced its patient offense by scoring three counterattack goals in the first and avoiding major foul trouble.

In a first-round game:

In Division 7:

Savanna 10, Colony 9 (OT): Demari Kawasaki scored from about 5 meters 12 seconds into the second sudden-death overtime period to lift the host Rebels (15-10) into the second round Thursday against No. 3 San Dimas. Jawni Prunchak won the sprint for Savanna, setting the stage for the goal.

In other wild-card games:

In Division 6:

Tustin 18, Loara 7: Dana Twisk scored seven goals to lead the host Tillers (15-8), who play at Mayfield of Pasadena on Thursday.

Valencia 9, Santa Ynez 7: Corina Vester scored four goals to lead the visiting Tigers.

In Division 3:

Sunny Hills 8, Corona 7: The Lancers (22-8) led, 8-5, going into the fourth and held on to reach Wednesday’s game at No. 1 Arroyo Grande.

In Division 4

Claremont 12, Capo Valley 10: Sophomore Jessica Leckich scored five goals in the loss for the host Cougars (11-12).

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