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Top-ranked Newport Harbor boys’ water polo pulls away from Harvard-Westlake

Newport Harbor High was the venue for a boys’ water polo showcase on Saturday, with four straight games.

The final game of the showcase was the main event, Newport Harbor against Studio City Harvard-Westlake, matching the top two ranked teams in CIF Southern Section Division 1 and 2.

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Right now, with three weeks left in the regular season, nobody can argue who No. 1 is.

The Sailors solidified their hold on the top spot, and they did it with perhaps their best quarter of the season so far. Newport Harbor blitzed Harvard-Westlake for five straight goals in the third quarter, on its way to a 14-9 nonleague victory.

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In winning its 11th straight game, Newport Harbor (19-1) improved to 2-1 against Harvard-Westlake (16-4) this season. The Wolverines suffered their second loss of the week, as they were upset 8-5 by No. 5 Westlake Village Oaks Christian in a Mission League game on Wednesday.

“In the Elite Eight [tournament semifinals], they beat us by a lot [11-6 on Sept. 15],” said Newport Harbor senior Jack White, who had two goals, three assists, three steals and two field blocks on Saturday. “Ever since then, we’re super-motivated to play them and beat them. Going into this game, we wanted to get that second win against them.”

Junior Makoto Kenney led Newport Harbor with four goals and two assists. Kenney returned from sitting out a one-game suspension in Wednesday’s Battle of the Bay game, following his ejection from the Sailors’ game against San Diego Cathedral Catholic on Sept. 29.

“It was pretty tough,” he said of not playing against rival CdM. “I couldn’t even come watch. A couple of people kept me updated.”

Kenney did more than watch against Harvard-Westlake, which went up 3-1 in the first quarter on a power-play goal by Nico Tierney and two penalty shots, one by Ethan Shipman and one by Tierney. It was similar to the Elite Eight tournament game, when the Wolverines went up 3-0 early.

“I think this time we stayed composed and didn’t let it affect us,” Kenney said.

Newport Harbor took its first lead at 6-5 in the final minute of the first half, when junior left-hander Tommy Kennedy found Kenney for a goal. The Sailors then blanked Harvard-Westlake 5-0 in the third quarter, for a commanding 11-5 advantage.

For the game, all 12 of the Sailors’ goals were assisted, not counting two penalty shots by Kenney.

“We were working more as a team, looking for that extra pass,” White said. “When they would take a defensive stop, take a little breather, we would work even harder and look for that extra man.”

Junior center Ike Love had three goals and five exclusions drawn for the winners, who got two goals and four assists from Kennedy and two goals from senior Jake Liechty. Sophomore Eli Liechty also worked hard at two meters for Newport. At one point in the third quarter, he drew an exclusion and then a penalty shot, all within five seconds.

On his 17th birthday, Newport Harbor junior goalkeeper Blake Jackson celebrated with eight saves. Junior defender Reed Stemler, one of four team captains along with White, Kenney and Jake Liechty, had a goal and an assist.

Newport Harbor (3-0 in league) opens the second round of Surf League play against Laguna Beach (2-1 in league) on Wednesday at 6:20 p.m. at Corona del Mar High.

“I don’t think we’ll make a lot of big changes, just keep on playing the way we are and focusing on the extra pass and teamwork,” White said. “That game is pretty big for us, because we want to go undefeated in league, and that’s the next team we’re playing. Another win and we’re closer to that goal.”

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