Leave it to longtime Newport Harbor High water polo coach Bill Barnett to compare his team's six-on-five to the old comic strip character Fearless Fosdick.
Fearless Fosdick, a detective who was a parody of Dick Tracy, ran in cartoonist Al Capp's comic strip "Li'l Abner." The strip ended in 1977, roughly 20 years before the current Sailors players were born.
But as Barnett watched six-on-five shot after six-on-five shot get field blocked by Santa Margarita on Saturday afternoon, the comparison certainly made sense.
"Every time that Fearless Fosdick would get shot he would get shot into the stomach," Barnett said after the game. "There would just be a big hole in the stomach and the bullet would go right through. These girls think they can throw the ball at the goalie and it's going to go right through the goalie.
"Knowing when not to shoot the ball is just as important as knowing when to shoot the ball. We have people on our six-on-five that try to throw it through the defender, instead of around or over."
The Sailors certainly did not win the game with their six-on-five, as they were scoreless in eight opportunities. But a big even-strength goal by senior Heidi Fults proved to be a difference-maker.
With 12 seconds left, Fults scored into the upper-left corner from about seven meters out, lifting the Sailors to a 4-3 nonleague victory over the Eagles at Newport Harbor High. The team celebrated after the game with birthday cake, as senior Maddie Goodell turns 18 on Monday.
A win over Santa Margarita (13-4), the defending CIF Southern Section Division 2 champion and again top-ranked in that division, would be big for the Sailors (14-4) regardless. But for Newport Harbor, ranked No. 2 in Division 1, Saturday's victory provided a bounce-back after a very tough 13-1 loss to top-ranked Laguna Beach the previous day.
"We have to get over it and move on, but learn from our mistakes," said Fults, who scored twice on Saturday. "We know that we didn't play well at all [against Laguna]. We were speechless after the game. So this morning, [Barnett] just had a talk with us, saying 'You have to move on.' I think most of us have."
Newport senior Christina O'Beck and junior Kate Pipkin added goals, each on a backhand shot from set. Junior center Chanel Schilling drew three exclusions and O'Beck drew two, while Fults, senior Sydney Kohlenberger and junior Ellie Reid each had assists.
It also was another very strong game from the Sailors' goalie tandem. Senior Cleo Harrington made a season-high 12 saves in the first half, and junior Carlee Kapana made six in the second half.
Included in Kapana's total were a penalty-shot block early in the fourth quarter, as well as a huge stuff of Santa Margarita senior standout Haley Wan with about a minute left in the game. Kapana quickly moved across the cage to stop Wan's shot from the "one" position.
"They kept us in the game," Barnett said of his two standout goalies.
The Sailors led 3-1 at halftime, but Wan (two goals) brought her team back. Her counterattack goal with 5:04 left in the third quarter cut the lead in half.
Still, the Sailors held onto the lead until late in the fourth quarter, when six-on-five problems again surfaced. An errant pass led to a steal by Eagles senior Kelli Baumgardner, who then drew an exclusion in transition.
Santa Margarita senior Kacey Avalos finished off the player-advantage from six meters, tying the score at 3-3 with 2:16 left.
Then came Kapana's stop of Wan's shot. The ball went out of bounds, so the Eagles maintained possession and called timeout with 54 seconds left. But a lob went wide, giving the ball back to the Sailors and setting up Fults' game-winner.
Santa Margarita had five field blocks on Newport's eight power plays, two of them by senior Ali Kraft.
"We can play with any team when we're playing well," said Eagles Coach Brian Weathersby, whose team took a strong fifth place at the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions after losing to Laguna by just two goals in the quarterfinals. But he could only laugh when ask about Fults' game-winner.
"You can't block it," he said. "It's a high-corner shot with 12 seconds left. It's over."
The Sailors resume Sunset League play against Marina at 5 p.m. Wednesday. They have time to figure out their six-on-five before the Irvine Southern California Championships begin on Feb. 6.
It sounds like a case for Fearless Fosdick.
"The shot selection and passing were very poor," Barnett said of Saturday's effort. "But we won."