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A Tar-rific Comeback

Newport Harbor rallies late to beat Back Bay rival Corona del Mar and win CIF Southern Section Division I championship.

February 25, 2012|By Matt Szabo
(Kent Treptow )

IRVINE — They were underdogs in the second game of their season, when they were ranked No. 5 in CIF and stunned Foothill on the road without senior Maddy McLaren.

In the eyes of many they were underdogs in the last game of their season, when they played top-seeded Corona del Mar for a CIF championship.

In between, the Newport Harbor High girls' water polo team became what legendary coach Bill Barnett said was the most cohesive girls' team he has ever coached.

Every girl played her role to perfection. The No. 2-seeded Sailors got the ultimate reward on Saturday night at Woollett Aquatics Center.

They completed a stirring comeback in the fourth quarter, coming from three goals down to defeat CdM, 8-7. They won the program's fifth CIF Southern Section Division 1 championship.

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Some players wondered if Barnett, 69, would jump in the pool after the game.

"I shouldn't have," Barnett said. "But I had to, since my assistant coach [Brian Melstrom] did."

He was happy to do so, after the Sailors completed their stunning comeback when sophomore goalie Cleo Harrington stole an entry pass into two meters in the closing seconds. Newport Harbor had trailed, 6-4, going into the fourth quarter.

"We were nervous that someone was going to tackle him in and just fully hurt him," McLaren said. "But it all worked out for the best. He was definitely a team player."

Talk about team players. Just in the fourth quarter, there were so many heroes for the Sailors (27-4), who ended the year on a 16-match winning streak. They wouldn't be denied in the fifth Battle of the Bay meeting of the season.

McLaren started it off with a skip shot from five meters, bringing the Sailors within a goal just 15 seconds into the quarter. Then it was senior captain Presley Pender, who buried a shot from five meters into the left corner to knot the score at 6-6 with 5:53 left.

"I knew they were going to drop on me from [the] four [spot]," Pender said. "I just knew I needed to put my shots away. We watched so much film on Alex [Musselman], and exactly where to shoot. Literally, in my head, I was just like, 'Corners! Corners!'"

Then it was the turn of sophomore goalie Cleo Harrington to come up huge. After making a save, she fired a perfect counterattack ball to Carly Christian, who earned a five-meter penalty shot. McLaren converted it, giving Newport a 7-6 advantage with 3:39 left.

"That was such a beautiful pass," Christian said. "Perfect. Right into the hand. Frickin' beautiful."

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