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Newport Harbor boys’ water polo falls to Harvard-Westlake in South Coast Tournament title match

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Eli Liechty passes the ball in Newport Harbor’s semifinal match at home against Mater Dei in the South Coast Tournament on Saturday.
(Drew A. Kelley)

The Newport Harbor High boys’ water polo team went into the final day of the South Coast Tournament missing two key seniors.

Makoto Kenney was out with a broken finger, and left-hander Tommy Kennedy was nursing a sore back.

Sailors coach Ross Sinclair said it was beneficial to get some of his younger guys some playing time. Still, the losses hurt when it meant that Newport Harbor went into the tournament title match against Studio City Harvard-Westlake shorthanded.

Harvard-Westlake led throughout, beating the Sailors 11-7 at Newport Harbor High in the teams’ first meeting of the season.

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Huntington Beach beat Mater Dei 12-9 for third place.

Harvard-Westlake (9-0) is the defending CIF Southern Section Division 1 champion, upsetting top-seeded Newport Harbor (8-1) in last year’s final. The Sailors came back to earn the CIF State Southern California Regional Division I title over the Wolverines.

“I thought the guys that were in there all weekend did a really good job,” Newport Harbor coach Ross Sinclair said. “I thought the team did really well this weekend, considering [we were] obviously without those two guys. It’s a tough task going against Harvard, they’re a really good team and they’re well-balanced.”

Younger players did step up for the Sailors. Freshman left-hander Ben Liechty led Newport Harbor with three goals in the final. In a 9-5 semifinal win over Mater Dei earlier Saturday, it was sophomore Gage Verdegaal who scored three goals.

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Senior center Ike Love had two goals and drew five exclusions in the final for the Sailors. Newport Harbor went three for seven on the power play but just one for five in the first half, which ended with the Wolverines holding a 5-2 lead.

“We made a ton of turnovers the last three games, so one of our main goals was eliminating some of the turnovers we had and getting some better looks,” Harvard-Westlake coach Brian Flacks said. “Against a team like Newport, you make mistakes, they make you pay for it. We did a good job, particularly early on, kind of dictating.”

Harvard-Westlake, led by senior Ethan Shipman with three goals in the final, had beaten Huntington Beach 13-10 in the semifinals. Senior center Mot Stothart scored twice in the final and senior goalkeeper Nolan Krutonog made eight saves.

Junior center Eli Liechty and sophomore Mason Hunt also scored for Newport Harbor in the final. Senior goalkeeper Blake Jackson made nine saves, including one on a penalty shot, and added three steals.

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Blake Jackson of Newport Harbor blocks a shot by Mater Dei in the semifinals of the South Coast Tournament on Saturday.
(Drew A. Kelley)

Sinclair said Kennedy is likely to return when Newport Harbor hosts Huntington Beach in a crucial Surf League opener Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., though Kenney will miss at least one more week.

“It’s early,” Sinclair said. “There’s a lot of room for improvement for us.”

Huntington Beach 12, Mater Dei 9: Oilers senior Cooper Haddad, playing against his former team, scored three straight goals in the fourth quarter to help Huntington Beach pull away in the tournament third-place match.

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James Rozolis-Hill also scored three goals for Huntington Beach, and Chase Dodd scored twice.

Corona del Mar 9, Orange Lutheran 8: Senior Tanner Pulice scored six goals for the Sea Kings in the South Coast Tournament ninth-place match Saturday.

The Sea Kings also beat Laguna Beach 9-6 in a ninth-place semifinal match, behind five goals from Pulice and three from Tyler Harvey.

Laguna Beach beat Palos Verdes 9-6 to finish in 11th place.

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