Coach Mark Todd used to have two nicknames for Kole Escher, "Goal" Escher and "Cold" Escher.
The first one aptly fit Escher in his senior season with the Newport Harbor High boys' lacrosse team. The attacker lit it up for the Sailors, scoring a goal all 17 games and finishing with 54 goals.
The stats are Newport Harbor records, and Escher's record-breaking year led to the Sailors reaching the U.S. Lacrosse Southern Section South Division playoffs for the sixth straight time. The season ended on Tuesday, not the way Escher and the team preferred.
The No. 15-seeded Sailors lost at rival No. 2 CdM, 12-3, in the opening round. Escher, playing on an injured left foot and struggling to breathe because of asthma, scored twice to keep his consecutive goal-scoring streak alive. The streak Escher wanted to continue the most was the Sailors' six-game winning ride.
The late run empowered Newport Harbor to turn around its season. The team began 2-8, losing twice in overtime, once by one goal in regulation, twice by four goals, and three times in blowout fashion.
After dropping the first two Sunset League games, it all changed for Newport Harbor in mid-April. Things began to click and Escher explains why.
"We came together as a team more," said Escher, who added 16 assists and 44 groundballs. "We started trusting each other more, playing a little less individually and more as a team."
The Sailors built their longest winning streak in two years. The last time they won six in a row Escher was a sophomore.
During that sophomore season, his first as a starter, and the following one, Escher wasn't right. He dealt with serious ankle and back injuries, and concussions. The key to Escher's success in his final season was him staying relatively injury-free.
There is a reason Todd called Kole Escher "Goal" Escher this season. Escher sparked the Sailors' best stretch, producing 24 goals in the last six league contests. Half of the goals came against Edison. In the first meeting, he totaled seven goals, tying a Newport Harbor single-game record, and the second time around, he had five goals.
The second matchup was last week and it also happened to be the time Escher broke Zach Gagnon's single-season mark of 49 goals set five years ago. Escher and the Sailors hammered Edison, 20-5, in the league finale to secure second place and a postseason berth. The 20 goals set a Newport Harbor single-game record.
"It didn't feel that great because we've been the other team getting pounded on," Escher said. "You never want to just keep running up the score, but we had to."
Closing out the regular season with a rout helped the Sailors finish 6-2 in league and return to the playoffs. While short lived, the postseason appearance gave Escher another shot at Back Bay rival CdM, which beat Newport Harbor, 13-4, in the Battle of the Bay game on March 28.
The Sailors (8-9 overall) wound up losing to the Sea Kings for the 11th straight time. Afterward, Escher offered no excuses. He didn't look 100%. None of it was news to Todd.
"This is him every day, hacking all the time," Todd said, while Escher coughed loudly a handful of times. "This kid has been dying from asthma on the sideline. Literally can't breathe, choking, and still finds a way and makes it in there.
"He's battled sicknesses, he's battled injuries, and the irony is he's incredibly durable. He's definitely our workhorse on the attack. He gets beat up like a piñata every single lacrosse game, and he still runs through checks. You can see he's not a big guy [at 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds], he's not a fast guy, but he's a tough guy. You don't get many tough guys like that at the high school level. You see it more on the collegiate level. I think he's going to be a great collegiate player [at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo]. We were blessed to have his leadership. He leads by example."
The future is on hold right now for Escher in terms of playing lacrosse in college. All he could think about on Tuesday was that last bus ride home with his Newport Harbor teammates. Escher was the last player to board the bus.
"Kind of down right now because I really wanted to win," said Escher, whose 54 goals rank eighth in California. "I know a lot of those guys, but [I] try to take it for what it is."
Before Escher joined his teammates, one popped his head out of a bus window and yelled, "It's Kole with a K, by the way!"
Kole Escher proved to be the Sailors' "Special K" this year.