The Newport Harbor High boys’ water polo team withstood a spirited effort from Huntington Beach in Wednesday night’s Surf League contest.
Few players in the match were as spirited — or as on fire — as Huntington Beach senior Cooper Haddad.
Haddad scored four goals and the Oilers called timeout with less than a minute left and down by a goal, setting up Haddad for a final shot.
He drew a foul from future UCLA teammate Makoto Kenney outside of five meters, and Haddad rose to fire a shot. But Kenney got a piece of it, and the Sailors hung on for a 9-8 victory at Corona del Mar High that clinched at least a share of the league title.
Newport Harbor (17-3, 4-0 in league), ranked No. 2 in CIF Southern Section Division 1 and 2, can clinch its second straight outright Surf League crown with a win in its next league match. That will be the second Battle of the Bay contest against rival Corona del Mar (2-2 in league), to take place Oct. 23 at CdM at 7:30 p.m.
Newport Harbor senior center Ike Love, who matched Haddad with four goals, said the Sailors came out flat but were still able to produce a big victory. It was their second of the season over the No. 4-ranked Oilers (14-7, 2-2) in league play, as they also pulled away for a 7-4 home win in the league opener on Sept. 25. Kenney (four steals) and junior center Eli Liechty each added two goals for the Sailors in the rematch.
Wednesday’s match never got to a three-goal margin. Huntington Beach, coming off a 13-12 overtime loss to Orange Lutheran on Tuesday, kept battling back.
“That’s always one of our goals coming into the season, to win league,” Love said. “We definitely pride ourselves on building a reputation to win league at Newport. It’s definitely a huge first step. It’s just, we look at every game as an opportunity to improve ourselves. Yes, winning is great, but we’re looking at the long run. What is our team going to be like if we play our opponent in CIF?
“Yes, we won, but did that game really help our team improve? Maybe, in some regards, but I don’t think we necessarily came out and played the way we could have.”
Newport Harbor led 7-6 after three quarters. Huntington Beach tied it at 7-7 on junior left-hander Ethan Crooks’ goal, assisted by Haddad, with 6:40 left in the contest.
But the Sailors got goals from Love, then Kenney on the counterattack, to build a 9-7 advantage with 4:04 remaining.
Haddad’s power-play goal again pulled Huntington Beach within a goal on his team’s next possession. But neither team would score again.
Sophomore Mason Hunt had a goal and three steals for the Sailors, while senior goalkeeper Blake Jackson made seven saves. Newport Harbor was able to earn its second straight big victory, after Saturday’s 11-9 nonleague win at top-ranked defending Division 1 champion Studio City Harvard-Westlake.
“We came out really flat,” Sailors coach Ross Sinclair said. “We never really settled into much of a rhythm. I think we go up two goals and we get comfortable, and that’s something we have to address. We’ve had a pretty good stretch of water polo the last two weeks, so we’re not expected to be playing at our highest level right now. Physically, we’re probably not feeling our best, but we still need to be better mentally and focused on the defensive end.
“I thought there were a lot of defensive lapses that are uncharacteristic for where we are right now, and who we are as a team. Credit Huntington, they did a good job capitalizing on that.”
Junior attacker Chase Dodd had two goals and three steals for Huntington Beach, which dropped its third straight match but played inspired water polo at times. Senior Garrett Lee also scored, and senior goalkeeper Jacob Pyle made six saves.
“I just really want to congratulate my boys for bouncing back from that [Orange Lutheran loss] like lions, like men,” Oilers coach Sasa Branisavljevic said. “That was huge ... I know that nobody expected us to play at this level, but I knew that we were capable of playing at this level. It’s a huge confidence boost, even though it’s a loss.”
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