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Newport Harbor boys’ water polo strikes first, often versus CdM

Newport Harbor High School's Ben Liechty (13) takes a shot on goal in a home game vs. Corona del Mar High.
Newport Harbor High School’s Ben Liechty (13) takes a shot on goal in a home game vs. Corona del Mar High on Thursday. Newport Harbor won 14-5.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

The water polo season will last a little more than two weeks.

After all the questions raised for high school athletes by the coronavirus pandemic, one would hardly want to wait much longer for one of the best moments the schedule has to offer annually.

The first round of the Battle of the Bay matches — the crosstown rivalry between Corona del Mar High School and Newport Harbor — kicked off the season on Thursday night.

Ben Liechty had a game-high four goals to lead the Newport Harbor boys’ water polo team to a 14-5 victory over the rival Sea Kings at home.

“I love how we came out, first game of the season, Battle of the Bay,” said Liechty, who added two assists, two field blocks and two steals in the contest. “It’s a great feeling. I love just playing with my teammates and getting the opportunity to play.”

A theme of the night for the Sailors was brotherly love. Eli Liechty, a senior, also recorded a hat trick for the Sailors. Ben, his brother, is a sophomore.

Newport Harbor's Billy Rankin (11) takes a shot on goal in Thursday's match against Corona del Mar.
Newport Harbor‘s Billy Rankin (11) takes a shot on goal in Thursday’s match against Corona del Mar.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Seven Sailors had one goal apiece. They were Peter Clark, Peter Castillo, Sam Allen, Gage Verdegaal, Owen Tift, Billy Rankin and Nick Richardson.

Richardson, a senior, capped the scoring for Newport Harbor. His goal with just over a minute remaining in the game was assisted by none other than his brother, Tommy.

“I love it,” Nick Richardson said of connecting with his brother in the pool. “It didn’t really hit me until after. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it happened, and it was just such a special moment. I love training with him. I love playing with him. It’s awesome.”

Goalkeeper Alexander Altshuler had five saves in the third quarter alone for the Sailors.

There was a modest crowd by Battle of the Bay standards, as the Newport-Mesa Unified School District is currently restricting attendance to two family members per player.

Corona del Mar's Dylan Hamm (4) makes a pass.
Corona del Mar‘s Dylan Hamm (4) makes a pass.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

“The one real bummer about it … is that in previous Battle of the Bays, we’d always have old teammates come back that graduated,” CdM senior Dylan Hamm said. “You get the football team out here sometimes, and it gets pretty rowdy, and that’s like the one thing I really miss about it. As long as I’m with my teammates, it’s still totally worth it.”

Hamm led the Sea Kings with two goals. Eamon Hennessey, Zach Kittleson and Kyle Jolas each had one goal, and Camren Simoncelli had two steals and an assist for CdM.

Newport Harbor held a 6-3 lead at halftime, but the Sailors struck for five unanswered goals in the third period.

Sailors coach Ross Sinclair was pleased with the effort, which included an efficient performance on the team’s 6-on-5 opportunities.

“That’s something that takes a lot of time to practice,” Sinclair said. “We haven’t had that, so it was good that we were able to have a high success rate. Normally, when you don’t practice a lot or you don’t get to practice, that’s one of the first things that seems to go.”

Corona Del Mar High School's Eamon Hennessey (6) looks to pass under pressure in a game vs. Newport Harbor on Thursday.
Corona del Mar High School’s Eamon Hennessey (6) looks to pass under pressure.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

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