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Harvard-Westlake boys’ water polo outlasts Newport Harbor for CIF SoCal Regional Division I title

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Newport Harbor’s Eli Liechty (4) throws the ball between two Loyola defenders during a CIF Southern California Regional Division I semifinal match at Segerstrom High on Saturday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The Studio City Harvard-Westlake and Newport Harbor high school boys’ water polo teams engaged in one last battle for 2019 on Saturday night in the CIF Southern California Regional Division I title match.

Even if the stakes were lower than last weekend’s CIF Southern Section Division 1 championship won by Harvard-Westlake, the Wolverines and Sailors did battle for four quarters and then some.

Harvard-Westlake again came out on top, as Nico Tierney’s penalty shot in sudden-death overtime lifted the Wolverines to an 11-10 victory at Segerstrom High.

Top-seeded Harvard-Westlake (31-2) never trailed but held on as No. 2 Newport Harbor (28-5) rallied from an 8-5 deficit entering the fourth quarter. The Wolverines beat the Sailors for the fourth time in five meetings this year.

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“That was not the best water polo these two teams have played this season, but it was fun,” Harvard-Westlake coach Brian Flacks said. “We had a good time. I liked the way the kids battled. We hung in tight and battled the entire way against a really good team. It’s always fun playing [Sailors coach] Ross [Sinclair] and those kids.”

Tierney had a match-high four goals and Cristian Pang added three goals for Harvard-Westlake, which got 19 saves from senior goalkeeper Nolan Krutonog.

Senior left-hander Tommy Kennedy scored three goals for Newport Harbor, while senior Makoto Kenney and sophomore Mason Hunt each scored twice. Ike Love, Gus Oeding and Gage Verdegaal added one goal each for the Sailors, and senior goalkeeper Blake Jackson made nine saves.

The match finished anticlimactically in sudden death, after a Newport Harbor player was excluded on the offensive end. The referees ruled that the player failed to exit the pool in a timely manner and rewarded a penalty shot to Harvard-Westlake, which Tierney buried.

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“It was fun to get the guys together and play one last little hurrah,” Sinclair said. “Throughout the three games, everyone got a little run, which was fun. We got some guys in that are going to contribute next year, got them some extended minutes. It’s a great opportunity.

“In the beginning, it’s hard to motivate them. You kind of limp into it, and you see a familiar foe [No. 3-seeded Los Angeles Loyola] in the semis, so there’s pride behind it. You want to try to play up. Then obviously, we run into these guys [in the final]. It’s fun to battle with them. Whether we won or they won, it seems to bring the best out of both teams, so you’re grateful for that opportunity.”

The Sailors beat Loyola 12-9 in the semifinals behind three goals from Eli Liechty and Kenney, and two each from Verdegaal and Love. In the other semifinal, Harvard-Westlake topped No. 5 Huntington Beach 10-9, with senior center George Avakian scoring the game-winning goal with 1:06 left in the fourth quarter.

Cooper Haddad led Huntington Beach (19-11) with three goals in the semifinal loss, and Chase Dodd scored twice. Ethan Crooks, James Rozolis-Hill and Ryan Elkhouri added one goal each.

Senior goalkeeper Jacob Pyle made nine saves for the Oilers, who also lost to Harvard-Westlake 10-7 in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 semifinals. Huntington Beach has several talented players coming back next year, including Dodd, Crooks and Rozolis-Hill.

“I’m not going to make predictions, because I have no idea,” Oilers coach Sasa Branisavljevic said. “But do we have the athletes? Yes, we do. Do we have the will? Yes, we do. We’ve just got to train very hard, roll with the punches and see how these offseason tournaments go, see what happens throughout the year.”

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