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Santa Margarita sizzles at the right time
IRVINE – Santa Margarita's girls water polo team got off to a sizzling start Wednesday night in its CIF Division 2 semifinal against El Toro.
And when adversity arrived, the Eagles stayed united and pushed on.
Santa Margarita survived the foul out of standout Emily Loughlin early in the third period to hold off El Toro, 9-8, at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center.
Kacey Avalos made a steal in the closing seconds to secure the victory for the Eagles (24-6), who never trailed but saw their six-goal lead in the second period trimmed to one.
The second-seeded Eagles will make their first finals appearance since 2003 when they take on fourth-seeded and rival Mater Dei on Saturday at Woollett. The game time has not been announced.
Mater Dei knocked off defending champion and nemesis Santiago of Corona, 9-7, in the first semifinal.
"We're hungry," Loughlin said of the all-Trinity League showdown. "We want a ring and we know how good Mater Dei is."
On Wednesday, Loughlin, a Cal-bound center, scored Santa Margarita's first four goals in the opening period, all on powerful moves from center.
The senior helped the Eagles take the opening period, 6-2. Santa Margarita's Tessa deRecat and Kelli Baumgardner added the first two goals of the second period and the Eagles led, 8-2.
The Eagles led, 9-5, at halftime and then started Loughlin for the third despite her having two fouls. She fouled out with 5:21 left in the third.
El Toro surged in the second half and Delaney Riley scored twice in the final two minutes of the fourth, the last with 38 seconds left, to trim the Eagles' lead to 9-8.
"My teammates really helped me out when I got fouled out," Loughlin said of a group that included Haley Wan guarding center and goalie Nikki Doumas (eight saves).
Wan mostly matched up against El Toro center Allison Skaggs, whom the Eagles held without a natural goal. Avalos matched up against Riley.
"For the most part, Kacey and Haley really played good, solid one-on-one defense, and that was awesome," Santa Margarita coach Kevin Ricks said.
The Chargers (19-10) finished 2 for 11 on the power play. Santa Margarita went 3 for 8 with the extra attacker.
Riley and Valerie Spezzaferri each finished with three goals apiece for El Toro. Chargers goalie Emily Browning recorded eight saves.
In the other Division 2 game:
Mater Dei 9, Santiago of Corona 7: Mackenzie Barr scored three goals and Anna Politiski made 14 saves to lead the Monarchs (23-9) past the Sharks, who beat Mater Dei in the finals last season.
Sydney Blubaugh, Courtney Jarvis and Audrey Light each added two goals for the Monarchs, who led, 3-0, after the first period. The score was tied, 7-7, going into the fourth but Mater Dei pulled away once again on goals by Barr and Blubaugh.
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