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Strong start buoys Newport Harbor boys’ water polo in Battle of the Bay win

Peter Castillo (4) of Newport Harbor prepares to shoot surrounded by Corona Del Mar defenders during a boys' water polo game.
Peter Castillo (4) of Newport Harbor rises up for a shot and score as he is surrounded by Corona Del Mar defenders during the annual Battle of the Bay boys’ water polo game on Friday at Newport Harbor High.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The Newport Harbor High boys’ water polo team has lacked consistency lately, at least in terms of personnel.

Sickness has plagued the Sailors the last couple of weeks. Coach Ross Sinclair said he was missing three starters headed into Friday night’s Battle of the Bay match against Corona del Mar.

“Hopefully we can be healthy on Monday,” Sinclair said. “It’s been a rough two weeks, to be honest, but it was really fun to see guys step up tonight and fulfill different roles throughout the game.”

The Sailors do have depth, and they showcased that in a 14-9 victory over their Back Bay rivals.

Newport Harbor's Ben Liechty (13) shoots and scores in front of the net during Friday night's Battle of the Bay game.
Newport Harbor’s Ben Liechty (13) shoots and scores in front of the net during Friday night’s Battle of the Bay game.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Senior left-hander Ben Liechty and junior center Peter Castillo each scored four goals for Newport Harbor (9-1), ranked No. 3 in CIF Southern Section Division 1. Senior Nick Kennedy stepped up for three goals, and senior Finn LeSieur chipped in two goals and three assists.

Newport Harbor scored five unanswered goals in the second quarter to grab a 9-2 halftime lead. They did it largely on the back of Castillo and Liechty, who combined for five first-half goals, four of those assisted by the other player.

CdM threw a number of defenders at Castillo; four CdM players ended the match with at least two exclusions.

CdM goalie Chase Campbell goes face to face with Newport Harbor shooter Owen Bartlett (2), blocking the shot at close range.
CdM goalie Chase Campbell goes face to face with Newport Harbor shooter Owen Bartlett (2), blocking the shot at close range during Friday’s match.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“I just try to fulfill my role,” Castillo said. “I do everything I can to hold my position. I like to think that I have legs that can push anybody back, pretty much, and I just use that to my advantage.’

Castillo drew five exclusions in the first half alone, and nine for the match.

The Sailors, who finished second to Mater Dei at the South Coast Tournament last weekend, scored five of their eight first-half power play chances. CdM didn’t score on its only first-half power play opportunity.

“I think he’s a generational talent, to be honest,” Sinclair said of Castillo, who also had two assists and a field block. “He’s physically there. He’s mentally there. He’s tough. He goes in and works extremely hard … and defenders are in trouble every possession.”

Newport Harbor's Finn LeSieur gets a shot off as Luke Zimmerman (7) of Corona Del Mar defends on Friday night.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The match represented the only scheduled meeting of the season, because CdM (8-6) has dropped down to the Wave League. The Sea Kings did not give up, however, in Friday night’s tilt.

They won the second half. Junior center Camren Simoncelli and emerging sophomore Jackson Harlan tied for the team lead with three goals each, and junior left-hander Charles Warmington had three assists and two steals before fouling out in the second half.

Goalkeeper Chase Campbell made five saves for CdM, while junior Luke Zimmerman scored twice. Senior Nate Evans added a goal.

CdM coach Kareem Captan said he has seen flashes from his Sea Kings, who have a roster of mostly juniors. They hung with Studio City Harvard-Westlake for a while at last weekend’s South Coast Tournament, and lost to Huntington Beach by a single goal.

CdM's Luke Zimmerman (7) gets a shot off for a goal in the third period during the Battle of the Bay boys' water polo game.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“We all miss the competition,” said Captan of being dropped from the Surf League to the Wave League. “We want better games, but at the same time, we’re going to take whatever situation that we get and make it the best for us. Although we’re not in that upper league, we have a different focus here the next five weeks leading into playoffs. We have a lot of liberty now. We have a lot of flexibility on what we can accomplish in practice, competition. Our goal is by November to be the best version of ourselves, and I think we’re definitely on our way.”

Owen Bartlett scored a goal Friday night for Newport Harbor, while Gavin Netherton and Shane Santoni combined for two steals and an assist. Senior goalkeeper Cooper Mathisrud had two saves and a pair of steals.

“It’s something we always like to think about,” Castillo said of the Sailors’ depth. “For Newport Harbor, there [aren’t] players, [there are] positions. There’s a role that we have to fill for center, there’s a role we have to fill for one-two [side] and four-five and center defense. There are expectations for everyone to succeed and complete their role, no matter how old they are or how young.”

Newport Harbor's Peter Castillo (4) has his pass tipped away by CdM's Noah Gerard (13) during the Battle of the Bay game.
(Don Leach/Daily PIlot)

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