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Newport Harbor prevails despite turbulent weather
RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA – Newport Harbor girls water polo coach Bill Barnett said Saturday's game against No. 4 Santa Margarita was played in a monsoon.
It was hard to disagree with him, as the weather changed from overcast to pouring rain, then foggy, and finally reverted back to a steady downpour.
The weather conditions aside, this is water polo, and the players looked unfazed throughout in what was a riveting third encounter between the two sides this season.
Rachel Whitelegge scored the go-ahead goal with 4:34 left, and Cleo Harrington came up big in the net for the Sailors late, as No. 2 Newport Harbor downed the Eagles, 10-9, Saturday afternoon at Santa Margarita High.
The Eagles (16-4) lost both previous meetings with Newport Harbor. If they had learned anything from those defeats, it was that Harrington was a force to be reckoned with.
The Sailors' goalkeeper was at the top of her game, stopping 13 shots. Harrington held the fort for Newport Harbor late, denying all three shots she faced with the Sailors (15-4) clinging to a one-goal lead inside of four minutes to play.
"It's tough to beat a good team three in a row," said Barnett, adding he felt winning the first two games with Santa Margarita helped relieve some of the pressure that comes with a matchup between two highly ranked teams.
Carolyn Smith scored three goals to lead the Sailors.
Newport Harbor jumped in front early. Smith was able to free herself from Santa Margarita's interior defense and deposited a 2-meter shot past Eagles' goalkeeper Nikki Doumas for a 3-1 lead.
Santa Margarita rallied behind Haley Wan in the second quarter. Wan scored all three of her goals in the period, twice bringing the Eagles even before Elissia Schilling put the Sailors up, 6-5.
The Sailors received a fortuitous bounce to end the half, as Smith's long-range shot struck the cross bar and banked off of Doumas to give Newport a two-goal lead at halftime.
Smith's buzzer-beater put the Eagles on the run in the second half. Santa Margarita finally pulled even with 4:51 remaining. An unlikely source completed the comeback for the Eagles, as Tessa deRecat recorded her first goal of the season for a 9-9 tie.
Despite their fight, the Eagles never led.
"We created some scoring opportunities, but we didn't do a good job of finishing," Eagles coach Kevin Ricks said.
Whitelegge scored on the next possession, and Harrington shut the door late as the Sailors went on to win.