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Huntington Beach starts strong, beats Corona del Mar

A goal a minute.

That was almost the pace that Huntington Beach High senior center Garrett Zaan produced at early in the Oilers’ nonleague boys' water polo game at Corona del Mar on Monday night.

Zaan put in three goals in the first three minutes and 44 seconds, giving his team the early advantage.

The strong start helped Huntington Beach, which kept at least a two-goal lead the rest of the game. The Oilers were on their way to a key 12-8 victory, their second over the Sea Kings this season.

Huntington Beach (10-5), ranked No. 4 in CIF Southern Section Division 1 and 2, denied No. 10 Corona del Mar (6-3) a chance at an upset win. Zaan, who finished with five goals, was a big reason why. So was senior Jake Cavano, who scored four of his five goals in the second half.

“We were aware they were going to come out and press us early, press us in transition,” Oilers Coach Sasa Branisavljevic said. “That was leaving open our first line, primarily Zaan. We were looking for him early in the game. Obviously, he was putting his shots away, so it was just working out. When you create a lead early in the game and control it, you keep the other team on the heels or in this panic mode. We were able to do that.”

CdM coach Kareem Captan said his team lost track of its defensive assignments against Zaan, who also had a big game with four goals in the teams’ previous meeting, a 12-10 Huntington Beach win in the second round of the South Coast Tournament on Sept. 21.

“We knew Zaan was going to be a threat and we wanted to take care of him,” Captan said. “We were looking to transition to our zones a lot quicker. That’s something we’ve been working on, but we just fell asleep on a lot of defensive assignments, which hurt us, because Zaan did a great job in center.”

The Oilers led by as much as 7-2 late in the first half before CdM’s Matt Ueberroth scored a power-play goal with just two seconds left in the first half. The play was assisted by CdM senior Henry Wilde, one of four helpers by Wilde in the game.

CdM tried to rally, cutting the lead to two goals in the fourth quarter. Sophomore Tanner Pulice, who led the team with four goals, had a six-on-five goal, then Hayden Roletter added another assisted by Wilde. The Oilers lead was just 10-8 with 3:19 remaining, and Branisavljevic called timeout.

Cavano hit a big-time shot out of the timeout. Roletter did well not to foul him at about six meters, but Cavano shot anyway and scored. Then, with 1:38 left, Zaan turned and scored for the final goal of the game.

“Their crowd was really amping them up, so getting their crowd quiet kind of killed their spirits,” Cavano said. “That was kind of what I was trying to do. If they don’t have the will to fight, they’re not going to put the game away.”

Oilers senior goalie Spencer Stanbridge, who Branisavljevic said has improved a lot since the beginning of the season, made nine saves. Quinn Simpson had a team-high three steals, and Curtis Jarvis and Saxon Varon had a goal each, with Andy Tucker assisting each of Zaan’s first two goals.

The Oilers did lose a lot of talent from a year ago to graduation, but they have established themselves as one of the top teams again this season. They play Fountain Valley on Wednesday in a Sunset League game before a showdown with No. 2 Orange Lutheran on Saturday at 6 p.m. at Santiago Canyon College.

“[This win] is good for our season moving forward,” Cavano said. “It helps us get more confidence and build up to our goal of eventually beating Mater Dei and the other good teams. Hopefully, we’ll get in the CIF finals again.

“I think we’re more of a team of friends this year. Last year, it was all about competing to get to the end goal. This year, we’re having more fun, and it’s showing in our success. It’s a different atmosphere at practice.”

Roletter scored twice for CdM, with senior center Will Klein adding a goal. Senior goalie Will Snyder made five saves.

The Sea Kings have Pacific Coast League games with Irvine (home) on Tuesday and Woodbridge (away) on Thursday, then compete in the S&R Sport Cup tournament this weekend at Irvine’s Woollett Aquatics Center.

CdM opens the tournament on Friday at 11:05 a.m. against Acalanes High of Northern California.

“Our guys take pride in the fact that we never give up,” Captan said. “Our boys fought tonight, but in order to win some big games, we’ve got to take care of the defensive side of the ball and also execute on the game plan … For us, it’s about playing a complete game, honestly. We have to really work on consistency.”

matthew.szabo@latimes.com

Twitter: @mjszabo

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