CORONA DEL MAR — The Corona del Mar High girls' water polo team saw any chance for momentum heading into the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs slipping away.
The Sea Kings trailed Los Alamitos by three goals late in the first half of Friday night's Irvine Southern California Championships quarterfinal at CdM. But they responded with a second half that might be a springboard to bigger and better things.
They might have been the most important 14 minutes of the season so far for CdM. The hosts dominated those final 14 minutes, on their way to a 10-8 comeback victory over the Griffins.
No. 3-seeded Corona del Mar (19-3) moves on to play top-seeded Foothill in a tournament semifinal at 10 a.m. Saturday at Irvine's Woollett Aquatics Center. No. 2-seeded Santa Barbara plays No. 3 Newport Harbor in the second semifinal at 11 a.m. The championship match is scheduled for 3:15 p.m.
CdM and Foothill have met once this season, with the Knights taking a 9-7 victory in the semifinals of the Holiday Cup on Dec. 29.
"[Saturday's] going to be tough, man," CdM Coach Sam Bailey said. "It doesn't matter who you draw. It's going to be two very tough games."
Bailey's squad seemed to be almost out of contention on Friday, despite two early goals from senior Ally McCormick. Los Alamitos (19-5) scored four straight goals, taking a 5-2 lead on senior Stephanie Mutafyan's rocket shot from eight meters.
CdM senior Ioanna Haralabidis scored on a counterattack in the final minute of the half, but the Sea Kings were still in a hole.
"We just tried to remember to stick to the basics, and Sam told us that when we got to the wall," McCormick said. "Before, we had done a lot of preparation with knowing their players and the plays. We kind of got a little bit ahead of ourselves ... we tried to just go back to the basics and just put away our goals, make easier passes so we weren't getting interceptions."
It was the Sea Kings who scored four straight goals in the third quarter. First it was Ioanna Haralabidis, then freshman Maddie Musselman provided a spark off the bench for CdM. She scored twice within a minute, giving the Sea Kings a 6-5 lead.
McCormick then fed senior Genevieve Weed, who scored from two meters to give CdM a 7-5 advantage with 1:05 left in the quarter.
Mutafyan (three goals, two exclusions drawn) scored again off a foul to bring the Griffins within one entering the fourth quarter. But McCormick provided an insurance goal, flipping one in on the counterattack with 2:58 left off a pass from senior goalie Erica Weed (eight saves). Los Al couldn't get closer than two goals the rest of the way.
Los Alamitos was two for four on its power play, while CdM was scoreless on its only chance. Becca Corb also scored twice for the Griffins.
Several times during the game, Los Al Coach Dave Carlson reminded his team to play tight defense on Corona del Mar seniors Cassidy Papa and Stephania Haralabidis. Both had rough shooting nights, although Stephania Haralabidis had a late goal and added a match-high five steals.
McCormick and Ioanna Haralabidis led CdM with three goals each.
"A lot of people think that when we got the Greeks, they were just going to lead our team," McCormick said. "I think that this shows that we're not just a two-person team. I mean, we had five girls score all of our goals, so we were definitely well-rounded. We're not just going to give up. We've been working really hard, and this was an important game. We didn't want to let it slip."
It has been an interesting season for CdM, which earned big short-handed wins in December but had just a fifth-place showing at the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions after the Haralabidis twins became eligible. But the Sea Kings remain in contention to capture the last regular-season tournament.
"It's no secret, there's a lot of threats on the team," Bailey said. "It was nice to see the girls execute."