GOLETA — Maybe they should build a statue of the fictional boxer Rocky Balboa on the pool deck at Newport Harbor High.
The Sailors girls' water polo team has shown time and time again that it doesn't mind being considered the underdog. The team relishes that role.
Maybe now is the time to stop using such labels for the defending CIF Southern Section Division 1 champions.
Junior Christina O'Beck scored the game-winning six-on-five goal with 2:15 left in the match as Newport Harbor stunned Corona del Mar, 7-6, in a Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions quarterfinal match Friday night at Dos Pueblos High.
No. 3-seeded CdM was considered one of the favorites in the tournament, which is the first for its heralded transfers from Greece, twins Stephania and Ioanna Haralabidis. But No. 6 Newport Harbor said not so fast.
Newport Harbor will play No. 7-seeded Santa Margarita in a tournament semifinal at 12:15 p.m. Saturday at Santa Barbara High. Top-seeded Foothill plays Santa Barbara in the first semifinal, at 11:10 a.m. The championship match is scheduled for 4:35.
CdM, which was the defending tournament champion, plays Los Alamitos in a fifth-place semifinal at 10:05 a.m., also at Santa Barbara High.
The Sailors (11-3) don't advance to Saturday's semifinals without junior goalie Cleo Harrington. She made nine of her season-high 14 saves against CdM (9-3) in the second half. One huge save came on a one-on-nobody chance for Stephania Haralabidis, preserving what was at the time a 5-4 Newport Harbor lead.
Harrington's last block, with 12 seconds left, clinched the match.
"I think [people calling CdM the team to beat] pumps us up even more," Harrington said. "They're this all-star team that has these amazing stars. I mean, our fastest player is obviously Carly [Christian]. Then we look at their starting lineup and they have six Carlys, as far as speed, on their team. I just think it pumps us up even more. I like being the underdog … you can rise to the occasion."
The Sailors definitely did that Friday night. They never trailed, scoring the first two goals on backhand shots by senior Elissia Schilling. But the game was close throughout the second half.
Senior Carolyn Smith scored in transition to give the Sailors a 5-4 lead, but then CdM freshman Maddie Musselman earned a penalty shot that Stephania Haralabidis put away. But Newport senior Avery Peterson scored from six meters to give the Sailors a 6-5 lead headed into the final quarter.
CdM junior Marina Coskinas scored from set with 3:50 left to tie the score, but Newport Harbor was able to kill off three CdM power-plays in the fourth quarter before O'Beck's winning strike.
CdM converted just one of five power-play opportunities, while Newport Harbor was two for two — both goals scored by O'Beck.
"I thought our five-on-six really did a great job," said Newport Harbor Coach Bill Barnett, whose team beat CdM for the second time in three meetings this season.
Schilling had two goals and two steals for Newport Harbor, and Peterson had a goal and three steals. O'Beck had a well-rounded game with two goals, two steals and two assists, and Christian also scored.
Stephania Haralabidis had three goals and Ally McCormick scored twice for CdM. The Sea Kings also got a good game out of senior co-captain Erica Weed, who matched a season-high with 10 saves in goal. But CdM Coach Sam Bailey said his team performed like "six individuals in the water," in direct contrast to the Sailors' team play.
"Newport played really, really well as a team," Bailey said. "What's the saying, something about the whole car's worth more than the sum of its parts? That's it right there. Newport played so well as a team."
O'Beck has scored at least twice in each of the Sailors' three games against CdM.
"She seems to play one heck of a game against us," Bailey said. "The girl's got ice in her veins; you can see it. She just steps up and she's not afraid to shoot."
Newport Harbor defeated its tournament semifinal opponent, Santa Margarita, by an 11-6 score in the Holiday Cup quarterfinals Dec. 28. The Sailors have never won a Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions title in program history.
Schilling had a team-high three goals in the Sailors' 9-5 first-round victory over Corona Santiago, the defending CIF Southern Section Division 2 champions. Harrington had another strong game with 11 saves.
Stephania Haralabidis scored five times and Ioanna added four goals as CdM blasted Rosary, 18-1, in the first round. Senior co-captain Cassidy Papa scored three times and freshman Maddie Musselman had five steals.