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Newport Harbor boys’ water polo tops Harvard-Westlake to return to Open Division final

Newport Harbor's Finn LeSieur (7) fires in a goal during the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Open Division playoffs.
Newport Harbor’s Finn LeSieur (7) fires in a goal during the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Open Division playoffs against Harvard-Westlake on Wednesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)
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Newport Harbor High boys’ water polo coach Ross Sinclair is a big Los Angeles Lakers fan.

After a big win for his Sailors on Wednesday, he commented on the Lakers championship hat that was worn by a reporter.

“Nice hat,” Sinclair said. “Hopefully it’s not an antique by the time we win the next one.”

The Lakers most recently won the title in 2020, but are struggling this season with a 2-9 record. Newport Harbor, by contrast, has shown remarkable consistency.

Junior center Peter Castillo scored five goals as the Sailors beat Studio City Harvard-Westlake 11-8 in the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Open Division playoffs at Woollett Aquatics Center. Newport Harbor has advanced to the finals in the top division for the fourth straight time.

Newport Harbor goalkeeper Cooper Mathisrud makes a save in Wednesday's match.
Newport Harbor goalkeeper Cooper Mathisrud makes a save during the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Open Division playoffs at Woollett Aquatics Center on Wednesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Defending Open Division champion Newport Harbor (28-2), the No. 2 seed, will play top-seeded JSerra (27-2) in the title match on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at Woollett. JSerra beat Mater Dei 12-8 in the second semifinal match.

The last time the Sailors made four straight CIF finals was during the Bill Barnett-coached teams from 1974 through 1984, which made 11 straight Division 4-A title matches.

“Getting into a semi is difficult, getting into a final is difficult, winning a final is difficult,” Sinclair said. “I think it’s great for the program and our coaching staff. I’ve got a great support system.”

Surf League champion Newport Harbor made it back to the title match with its third win this season over Mission League champion Harvard-Westlake (19-7). The first two were one-goal thrillers, but Wednesday night, the Sailors led by as many as five goals in the third quarter.

“Defense was the name of the game,” Castillo said. “I think the defense was the best out of any of the games that we’ve played them. I think we were just more complete in our system.”

Newport Harbor's Gavin Appledorn reacts to a score during the semifinals of the Open Division playoffs on Wednesday.
Newport Harbor’s Gavin Appeldorn reacts to a score during the semifinals of the Open Division playoffs against Harvard-Westlake on Wednesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Senior left-hander Ben Liechty, senior Finn LeSieur and junior defender Gavin Appeldorn all scored two goals to aid the Sailors’ cause. Senior goalkeeper Cooper Mathisrud had five goals and three steals.

Appeldorn and Trey Smith are the Sailors’ primary center defenders, and Sinclair said he thought they raised their level in Wednesday’s contest. Appeldorn was in foul trouble after picking up his second exclusion early in the second quarter, but he contributed with a pair of second-half goals for the winners.

“It’s just the ‘next man up’ mentality,” Liechty said. “I feel like we did that to a ‘T’ this game.”

Liechty and fellow seniors Finn Genc and Nick Kennedy all had two assists, with Kennedy continuing his recent strong play off the bench.

Center Otto Stothart led Harvard-Westlake with three goals.

Newport Harbor's Peter Castillo fires in a goal in Wednesday's match.
Newport Harbor’s Peter Castillo fires in a goal during the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Open Division playoffs at Woollett Aquatics Center on Wednesday’s.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The Wolverines pulled within 8-6 on Stothart’s goal early in the fourth quarter, but the Sailors quickly responded with a power-play goal from Castillo assisted by Liechty and a rebound goal from Appeldorn.

Newport Harbor will play JSerra for the third time this season. The teams have split the first two matchups.

“We have what it takes, and we’ve worked our [behinds] off for it,” Castillo said. “We’ll see what happens in the game … we’ll be ready.”

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