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Huntington Beach boys’ water polo handles Orange Lutheran in CIF Division 1 opener

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Huntington Beach’s Garrett Lee takes a shot against Orange Lutheran’s Miles Wilson in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs at Santiago Canyon College in Orange on Thursday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

If the Huntington Beach High boys’ water polo team goes as far as it thinks it can in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs, the Oilers might look back on the postseason as a revenge tour.

They completed step one of that process on Thursday night, dominating what was thought to be a first-round matchup between two evenly matched teams.

Chase Dodd scored a game-high four goals, and Jacob Pyle made 15 saves to lead Huntington Beach over Orange Lutheran 11-5 at Santiago Canyon College.

“We really wanted to beat this team after losing in sudden-death [overtime] at our home, so this was the place to get them back,” Dodd said, referring to a 13-12 nonleague loss to the Lancers on Oct. 15.

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Huntington Beach (18-8) never trailed. Dodd scored twice in the second quarter to turn a 3-3 tie after the first period into a 6-4 halftime lead for the Oilers.

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Huntington Beach coach Sasa Branisavljevic congratulates Cooper Haddad after the team beat Orange Lutheran 11-5 in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs at Santiago Canyon College in Orange on Thursday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Five different Oilers — Josh Bowman, Cooper Haddad, Garrett Lee, James Rozolis-Hill and Dodd — scored in the third quarter, extending Huntington Beach’s lead to 11-5.

Haddad scored his goal by skipping a penalty shot off the water into the right side of the cage with 5:45 to go in the third quarter. When time had run out in the period, the Long Beach State commit swam to his bench and told his teammates, “We’re down.”

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“We worked on the mental aspect of the game,” Oilers coach Sasa Branisavljevic said. “Not really getting sucked into the score, but rather just keeping the emphasis on the game itself, taking it one possession at a time. We were able to carry that out really well tonight.”

The Oilers buckled down on defense, letting in just one goal in the second half. Haddad had two field blocks, and Ethan Crooks, Dayton-John Simpson, Rozolis-Hill and Dodd each contributed one to aid Pyle.

“I couldn’t have done it without my team,” said Pyle, who plans to sign with UC Irvine on national signing day on Nov. 13. “They helped funnel the shots right to where I wanted them. We just went out and pressed. We always had a shot block. There was never a time where a shooter took a shot without a hand up, and it all worked out.”

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Huntington Beach goalkeeper Jacob Pyle blocks an Orange Lutheran shot in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs at Santiago Canyon College in Orange on Thursday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Rozolis-Hill had three goals for the Oilers, and Crooks added one goal and three assists.

“[The Lancers] came out with a press, and my teammates just did a good job of pressure passing,” Rozolis-Hill, a sophomore center, said of his success inside of two meters. “[They were] passing the ball right on time, and it made my job easy to finish today.”

Orange Lutheran (16-10) was led by Mason Killion and Riley Catino, who each had two goals and a field block. Cameron Burns and Reed Pantaleon both recorded two steals.

Up next for Huntington Beach is top-seeded Studio City Harvard-Westlake (26-2) in the semifinals on Wednesday at Irvine’s Woollett Aquatics Center at a time to be determined. The Wolverines beat Mater Dei 11-3 in their first-round game.

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Harvard-Westlake defeated Huntington Beach 13-10 in the semifinals of the South Coast Tournament on Sept. 21, which was the only meeting between the teams during the regular season.

The Oilers also believe that they were competitive against Newport Harbor (25-3). Huntington Beach could potentially see the No. 2-seeded Sailors in the Division 1 final if it can get past its next test.

“The last time that we played Harvard, it was 13-10,” Branisavljevic said. “With Newport [Harbor], we had a game against them where it was 9-8, so those teams are fantastic, but I think we have a shot. We’re definitely going to throw everything that we have at them.”

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Huntington Beach’s James Rozolis-Hill battles for the ball with Orange Lutheran’s Seth Kacura in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs at Santiago Canyon College in Orange on Thursday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

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