Emma Gilbert, DP water polo
Emma Gilbert of Dos Pueblos gets off a shot while being pressured by Santa Margarita's Bianca Temesvary during a CIF-SS Division 1 quarterfinal game. Credit: Peter Neushul / Noozhawk photo

In a battle between two strong defenses, Santa Margarita came up with the last big defensive play to hold off Dos Pueblos for a 7-6 victory in a CIF-SS Division 1 quarterfinal game on Saturday at the Elings Aquatic Center.

Dos Pueblos created an opportunity to score the tying goal as Harvard-bound Emma Gilbert drew an exclusion with 1:03 to play in the fourth period.

On the power play, Ava Bennett tried to beat Santa Margarita goalie Sophia Burrell with a lob shot, but the ball bounced off the cross bar. Alina King of the Chargers scrambled to get the rebound and spotted  teammate Hana Lora Abel driving into the 2-meter area.

Unfortunately for the Chargers, Kamryn Barone rescued the No. 3 team from the strong Trinity League by stealing the ball. The Eagles ran out the clock to earn a spot in Wednesday’s semifinals.

The DP defense did a terrific job against a team that won an 11-8 meeting a couple of weeks ago at the Southern California Invitational. The offense, however, missed some chances. The Chargers hit the woodwork several times and had shots blocked by Santa Margarita defenders.

Alina King, DP water polo
Dos Pueblos lefty Alina King gets inside a Santa Margarita defender and takes a shot on goal during the Chargers’ 7-6 loss in the CIF Division 1 quarterfinals. Credit: Peter Neushul / Noozhawk photo

“We knew we had some decent looks and we relied on some lobs that just literally hit the top of the crossbar, which is frustrating,” said DP coach Chris Parrish. “But this team is not built to score 10 goals in a game. We just needed to to keep them from scoring seven.

“We just needed to buckle down the defense.”

The Chargers (17-12) were successful in doing that in most games this season. And they did it again on Saturday.

But Santa Margarita (15-12) got a couple of big breaks that made a difference in the tight game.

With the Eagles leading 4-3 in the third quarter, the Chargers had a shot blocked on a power play and another shot from close range go off the crossbar.

Santa Margarita was then awarded a penalty shot after Gilbert was whistled for a major foul after it appeared she cleanly knocked the ball away from Natasha Kieckhafer as she reached back to shoot.

Kieckhafer converted the penalty for a two-goal lead (5-3) with 2:15 left in the third.

The Chargers came back as Bennett passed to a driving Gilbert, who ducked a defender and scored to make 5-4 at the 1:07 mark.

Then came a wild sequence in the final seconds of the quarter. After was a series of turnovers, Kieckhafer ended up with the ball and fired a shot that skipped past the DP goalie at the buzzer for a 6-4 Eagles’ lead.

“That was really unfortunate,” said Parrish. “On the last possession of every quarter, the goalie can come into the front court. And, if we have the last possession, and as long as we don’t turn it over, we can get a seven on six (situation).”

An astute Santa Margarita player recognized what was happening and foiled the plan by stealing the ball. The Chargers fouled, but there was still enough time after the restart for Kieckhafer to get off a shot and score at the near post.

Despite the stunning play, Parrish felt “that wasn’t really the backbreaker, because the girls knew they had been playing well. And even though that went in, the girls shook it off and came back immediately in the fourth quarter. And with four and a half minutes left we were tied again.”

Gilbert drove in on Burrell and showed great patience before sweetly lobbing the ball over her to make it 6-5 at 5:48 of the fourth.

The lefty King then fed Gilbert, who slammed a shot into the back of the cage, tying the score at 6-6.

Gilbert scored four goals to lead DP, while Barone led Santa Margarita with five goals.

The Chargers failed to capitalize on a power play with four minutes left as their shot on goal was tipped.

Athena Wigo got a good look after a steal but was stopped by the goalie.

DP goalie Megan Garner came up with a steal and the Chargers created another scoring chance, but King’s lob shot hit the cross bar with 2:41 to go.

Santa Margarita scored the eventual game winner with two minutes left, as Kieckhafer found Barone for the finish.

Dos Pueblos hit the cross bar twice more time in the final 1:35.

Parrish said the last four minutes made the difference in the game.

“It was the stretch. It was the last four minutes of the game that we generated opportunities. We made a lot steals and gave ourselves a chance and, unfortunately, they just didn’t go in.”

He said he’s was pleased how the season went in his return to heading the program.

“This team, this is the first time in four years they’ve won a first-round playoff game and they made it to the quarterfinals. I’m hoping the seniors and the young girls on the team take a lot from it, enjoyed the experience and the ride.

“And we’ll come back next year.”

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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.