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Newport Harbor boys’ water polo upends top-ranked Studio City Harvard-Westlake

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Newport Harbor’s Makoto Kenney keeps the ball away from Harvard-Westlake’s George Caras during Saturday’s nonleague game in Studio City.
(Miguel Vasconcellos)

The Newport Harbor High boys’ water polo team steadied itself at the right time to earn a big road win over a rival on Saturday night.

Senior center Ike Love and sophomore Mason Hunt scored late to snap a tie and lift the Sailors, ranked No. 2 in CIF Southern Section Division 1 and 2, to an 11-9 victory at previously undefeated and top-ranked Studio City Harvard-Westlake.

The win was the first for the Sailors (16-3) in three meetings this year against Harvard-Westlake (17-1), which beat Newport Harbor last year in the Division 1 title match. It came a week after Newport Harbor lost to the Wolverines in the Elite 8 tournament final last week, also at Harvard-Westlake.

Love scored five goals for the Sailors, who did not trail after the first quarter and led 7-4 at halftime. But Harvard-Westlake rallied to tie the score at 9-9 with 3:56 left in the fourth quarter, on senior George Avakian’s power-play goal.

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“I think our perseverance and ability to calm down, when everything got kind of hectic, was super-important for us,” said Sailors junior center Eli Liechty, who scored twice and played more center defense after senior Reed Stemler fouled out in the second quarter.

Liechty also assisted Love’s goal with 3:31 remaining in the game, as Newport Harbor retook the lead. The final goal, from Hunt on the power play, came on a nice pass from senior Makoto Kenney. It was Hunt’s second goal of the contest, and he also had two assists.

Kenney, who has missed most of the season to this point with a broken finger, did not score but had four assists and two steals.

“I think he only shot maybe once, twice, but he did a really nice job of facilitating the offense and helping us flow a little bit better,” Newport Harbor coach Ross Sinclair said. “That was good. He made some really nice entry passes, post passes. He sees the game really well.

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“The best thing about it is that it doesn’t affect him if he scores or doesn’t score. He still plays hard. That was the first game I’ve seen in a long time where he played really hard all four quarters. Even when he got ejected, he was swimming out of the box fast.”

Senior goalkeeper Blake Jackson made nine saves for the Sailors, who got single goals from a pair of left-handers, sophomore Gage Verdegaal and freshman Ben Liechty. Another left-hander, senior Tommy Kennedy, had two assists.

“We didn’t stress [beating Harvard-Westlake],” Sinclair said. “I didn’t bring that up. It was just another game, an opportunity for us to progress toward our goal at the end of the season. We’re starting to add everyone back into the mix ... it’s more about getting that cohesiveness going.

“I wasn’t really stressing this game, like we had to win. We all know now that you can have a great regular season and lose the last game. You go 0-3 and you win the last game and it doesn’t matter, right?”

Seniors Nico Tierney and Ethan Shipman led Harvard-Westlake with three goals each.

Newport Harbor plays Huntington Beach in a key Surf League game on Wednesday at 6:20 p.m. at Corona del Mar High.

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