Emma Gilbert, shown from an earlier game, cored two goals and led a strong defensive performance by the Dos Pueblos girls water polo team in a 7-5 win over Oaks Christian in the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions. Credit: Peter Neushul / Noozhawk file photo / Noozhawk

It was a day of close games for two local girls water polo teams on the opening day of the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions at Santa Barbara High.

Dos Pueblos eked out a 7-5 victory over Oaks Christian on Thursday, while Santa Barbara fell short against San Clemente, 6-5, in play-in games for Friday’s main draw.

The win by Dos Pueblos puts it against third-seeded Los Alamitos in a first-round game at 2 p.m. at DP’s Elings Aquatic Center.

Santa Barbara will play in the consolation round-robin group and face Murrieta Valley on Friday at noon at the San Marcos pool.

San Marcos opens first-round play against Yucaipa at noon at Dos Pueblos. Yucaipa beat Schurr, 8-6, in a late play-in game.

The 20-team tournament, which is returning after a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic, features nine teams in the CIF-SS Division 1 top-10, led by No. 1 Orange Lutheran. San Marcos, Los Alamitos and Foothill are tied for the No. 2 spot; Laguna Beach is fifth, Newport Harbor sixth, Mater Dei and Long Beach Wilson are tied for seventh and Corona del Mar is 10th.

San Clemente 6, Santa Barbara 5

Santa Barbara and San Clemente were in a tight battle from the start. 

The Dons fought back from a 5-3 deficit late in the third period. Maria Bittle scored inside at the 2:40 mark of the third and Layla Syzmczak converted a penalty shot after drawing the major foul at 2:57 of the fourth period to even the score.

With 1:20 left, San Clemente’s Helene Macbeth drew a penalty after receiving an entry pass from Charlotte Musial. Macbeth took the penalty but her shot was tipped off the post by Santa Barbara goalie Nalani Yim.

Yim played a stellar game.

“She was great,” said Santa Barbara coach Mark Walsh. “She made a lot of great saves, she blocked a penalty shot and she intimidated on another one. She was in their head.  I know she didn’t block the second one, but you could tell the girl was not confident shooting.”

The Dons couldn’t capitalize on Yim’s penalty block as San Clemente intercepted a pass.

But Santa Barbara’s defense came up big, blocking a backhanded shot in the set position.

The Dons got a look at a game-winning shot, but Bittle’s attempt from the perimeter was high and wide.

“She had a good angle. I don’t know what we were going to get that was better,”  Walsh said of the shot. “We were basically getting lob shots from the wings with one second left on the shot clock. They were already double teaming what we had at two meters, so I don’t think one more pass was going to do anything.”

San Clemente got the ball back and found Talon Pelkey open on top. She beat Yim for the game winner with a hard, high shot with six seconds left.

Pelkey, Macbeth and Musial each had two goals to account for San Clemente’s scoring.

Szymczak had four goals to lead the Dons.

“All the girls battled hard. We gave it everything we had,” said Walsh. “We’re missing one of our main starters, so that made it a little bit harder for us. But the effort was great. We were kind of  lacking a little more offensive power, weaponry out there.

“We’ll keep working at it.”

Dos Pueblos 7, Oaks Christian 5

The Chargers stepped up at the defensive end, holding the Lions to two goals for three periods, to avenge an earlier defeat.

Last Saturday, Oaks Christian scored seven goals in the first period in an 11-10 victory.

“Holding them to two goals through three quarters is pretty impressive,” said DP coach Chris Parrish. “I was really happy with that. We talked about that after the last game because we gave up seven goals in the first quarter and then we held them to four the rest of the game.

“That was the defense I wanted to see in this one and that’s what they brought for the first three quarters.”

Emma Gilbert and Ava Bennett did a good job containing Oaks Christian’s powerful center Matty Winters, and goalie Megan Garner turned in a solid performance. She blocked several shots in the first period, made a key block on Caitlyn Fields in the third period and tipped the ball away from a driving Mia Fabros early in the fourth.

Gilbert scored on a long shot at 5:21 of the third period to give DP a 3-2 lead. Athena Wigo followed Garner’s stop on Fields with a well-placed shot into the upper left corner of the goal for a two-score advantage.

Oaks Christian broke its scoring drought as Aaliyah Kim fed Nicole O’Neill inside for a goal to make it 4-3 with 4:28 left.

Addison Parrish then came up big for the Chargers. She scored off a pass from Alina King at the 3:59 mark and fired a shot that was tipped before in went through the goalie’s hands on a 6-on-4 power play. That gave DP a 6-3 advantage with 1:49 to go.

“We got really lucky on that little tip because I think the goalie had a lock on that one and would have have knocked it down,” said Parrish.

Oaks Christian made things interesting down the stretch. Coach Jack Kocur replaced his goalie with O’Neill, an attacking player, for a 7-on-6 advantage. She scored to make it a 6-4 game with 1:34 left.

Lions’ goalie Savannah Punak returned to the cage and she intercepted a pass with 1:06 to go.

Kocur went back to the 7-on-6 lineup and Oaks Christian drew an exclusion.

The Lions had a shot tipped but they got they retained possession and Maryam Maamoun scored to make it 6-5 with 33 seconds remaining.

Dos Pueblos burned the seven-attacker Lions, as Gilbert fired a length of the pool shot into the empty cage for a 7-5 lead. She then picked off a pass to seal the victory.

Parrish said Thursday’s win just the second game he’s had his full squad, as the student athletes who transferred in became eligible just after Christmas.

“We’re hoping the chemistry is going to build up,” he said. “There’s only so much you can do in practice. You actually need some game experience to build that chemistry. So, we’re just hoping that builds through this weekend and then hopefully through Channel League and into the playoffs.”

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Barry Punzal, Sports Editor

— Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at bpunzal@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.