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Harvard-Westlake's defense stifles top-seeded Newport Harbor in Southern Section water polo final

The No. 2-seeded Studio City Harvard-Westlake boys’ water polo team used an inspired defensive effort Saturday to beat top-seeded Newport Harbor 5-3 in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title game at Woollett Aquatics Center in Irvine.

The Wolverines (25-5) claimed their third Division 1 title in coach Brian Flacks’ eight-year tenure. They also won the championship in 2013 and 2014.

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Junior defender Nico Tierney led Harvard-Westlake with two goals, as well as two field blocks. He helped the Wolverines play Newport Harbor (29-2) to a scoreless first half.

“I was pretty upset with our defense all season,” Flacks said. “I thought our defense was relatively poor, and I thought during playoffs, we’ve done a nice job cleaning it up. I think we did a nice job of pressing them and then falling back into zones late, trying to get pressure on their really talented, athletic shooters. We played smart defensively, and didn’t give up anything easy.”

Harvard-Westlake led 2-0 at halftime after first-quarter goals by senior Pierce Maloney and Tierney. Newport Harbor pulled within 4-2 late in the third quarter on a lob goal by junior Makoto Kenney but junior Ethan Shipman answered with a cross-cage strike with five seconds remaining in the quarter.

Newport Harbor junior center Ike Love scored a six-on-five goal with 6 minutes 1 second remaining in the fourth quarter, but the Sailors, making their first Division 1 title-game appearance since 2009, couldn’t get closer and had their winning streak ended at 21 games.

The Wolverines, who got 10 saves from junior Nolan Krutonog, and goals from junior George Avakian and senior Alexandru Bucur, also handed Newport Harbor its other defeat this season, in the semifinals of the Elite Eight tournament Sept. 16.

But Newport Harbor defeated Harvard-Westlake in the South Coast Tournament title game the next weekend, as well as a victory over the Wolverines in a nonleague game Oct. 6.

Junior Blake Jackson made a season-high 17 saves for Newport Harbor, which converted only three of 10 power-play chances.

The teams will compete in next weekend’s CIF State Southern California Regional tournament.

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