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PHOTO COURTESY OF LISA SKELLY
Orange Lutheran defeated Foothill, 8-7, in double-sudden overtime to capture the Santa Barbara TOC title.

Orange Lutheran edges Foothill for Santa Barbara TOC title

STAFF WRITER

SANTA BARBARA – Orange Lutheran’s commitment to its maturity process delivered the type of hard-fought, championship reward the third-ranked Lancers hoped for Saturday night.

The fourth-year varsity girls water polo program pushed aside past disappointment to emerge with the title at the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions after a double-overtime final against No. 2 Foothill.

Emma Skelly scored the winner 24 seconds into the second sudden-death overtime, zipping a near-side, low skip-shot from the wing into the cage for an 8-7 victory at Santa Barbara.

The triumph backed up another 8-7 victory against top-ranked Laguna Beach in the semifinals earlier Saturday and could send the Lancers to the top of Division 1 and Orange County polls.

Perhaps more importantly, the Lancers’ first TOC crown extended a confidence boost to a team that finished second at the Villa Park Classic and lost to Foothill in the semifinals of the Holiday Cup.

“All of our hard work paid off,” said Orange Lutheran’s Kelsey Tyler, selected tournament MVP. “(The losses) taught us a lot about ourselves and what we need to work on.

“You don’t get to the top without going through some hard times. It definitely shows we’ve risen and overcome those struggles but it’s just a stepping stone. We still want to get that (CIF) ring.”

Orange Lutheran coach Steve Carrera preached sticking to the growing process earlier this season and the Lancers (16-3) got an extended lesson.

Mollie Simmons lost her first period-opening sprint of the tournament in the first sudden-death overtime to Brooke Maxson but narrowly won the ball to open the second sudden-death overtime. The Lancers quickly passed to Skelly, who soon scored.

In the fourth, Foothill (13-4) erased a 6-4 deficit with just over six minutes left to take a 7-6 lead on a perimeter strike by Val Ayala with 2:47 remaining. But Lancers freshman Hannah Palmer forced a turnover near mid-pool with 25 seconds left, leading to a counterattack by Simmons, who drew a penalty shot with 18 seconds left.

Skelly converted on a higher skip shot to tie the score, 7-7, but the drama wasn’t over. Orange Lutheran freshman goalie Alyssa Barnuevo made a point-blank save on high-scoring center Noelle Wijnbelt with two seconds left to force overtime.

And at the end of the first sudden-death period, Tyler almost scored on a three-quarters length of the pool shot but Foothill’s Kenzie Snyder rose for the block.

“You have to go through battles (to grow),” said Carrera, who also got key contributions from Brooke Hourigan, Myna Simmons, Alyse Tyler and Bailey Dillard.

In the third-place game:

Laguna Beach 10, San Marcos 3: Bella Baldridge scored twice in a 4-0 run to open the second half as the defending tournament champion Breakers (14-2) rebounded.

Contact the writer: dalbano@ocregister.com


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