Newport Harbor edges Huntington Beach in sudden death for Sunset League boys’ water polo title

The game for the Sunset League boys’ water polo title lived up to the hype.

Host Newport Harbor High and Huntington Beach battled for four quarters Wednesday, but that wasn’t enough to decide a winner in this league finale, not after Newport Harbor sophomore Makoto Kenney scored a spectacular backhand goal from six meters with three seconds left in regulation to tie the score.

Kenney has two sudden-death overtime winning goals for the Sailors this year. This time, senior John Rankin did the honors.

Rankin scored a power-play goal in sudden death, assisted by senior Ryan Brosnan, to lift Newport Harbor to a 12-11 overtime victory and its first league title since 2013.

Kenney scored five goals for the Sailors (22-5, 5-0 in league), ranked No. 5 in CIF Southern Section Division 1 and 2. The Sailors could move up to No. 4 when the eight-team Division 1 playoff bracket is released Saturday, which could mean another matchup with Huntington Beach (15-8, 4-1) in the first round, if the Oilers drop from No. 3 to the five spot.

For now, the Sailors can celebrate an epic victory and their first league title in coach Ross Sinclair’s three-year tenure. They ended Huntington Beach’s three-year reign in league.

“We don’t lose at our home pool, especially that game,” Kenney said. “That was a big one. We weren’t going out like that. It’s really special, especially with all of the seniors leaving next year.”

Kenney’s goal came after Oilers senior Jake Cavano put his team up 8-7 with 12 seconds remaining in regulation. But Cavano was issued a minor act of misconduct penalty after the goal, which ended up fouling him out and meaning he’d sit out the overtime.

Quinn Simpson, Saxon Varon and Andy Tucker also fouled out for Huntington Beach. Much of that was due to the play of Sailors senior center Jackson Westerman, who didn’t score in the game but drew eight Huntington Beach kickouts.

Newport Harbor went five for 12 on the power play, including the winning goal. The Sailors were patient on the possession, with Brosnan, who scored three goals, eventually passing to his left to Rankin.

“I think if we had that opportunity a month ago, we would have shot the ball earlier and missed,” Sinclair said. “We were really composed and made the extra pass, not once but twice.”

The game doesn’t even get to overtime without Kenney’s backhand goal late in regulation, which had the Newport Harbor pool deck buzzing.

“It’s wild, it’s unexpected, and he did it,” Oilers coach Sasa Branisavljevic said.

Ike Love and Jack White also scored for the Sailors, while senior goalie Max Sandberg made 10 saves.

Senior center Garrett Zaan scored three goals and drew three exclusions for the Oilers. Jarvis, Cavano and junior transfer Jack Reed each scored twice, and Simpson added a goal. Spencer Stanbridge made 15 saves.

Reed and Jarvis scored in the second regulation overtime period to rally the Oilers from an 11-9 deficit.

“I was really happy with the boys who came in,” Branisavljevic said. “Obviously, we came up short, but the effort is what truly counts, and that was there. Hopefully next time, we get them.”

If the teams do meet again in the first round, the Sailors would be the home team as the league champion. They are tough at home and they’re tough in overtime.

With Wednesday’s win, Newport Harbor improved to 5-0 in sudden-death games this year. They also have wins over Studio City Harvard-Westlake, Corona del Mar, Santa Margarita and Los Angeles Loyola.

“I believe in them,” Sinclair said, “and they believe in themselves and each other.”

Twitter: @mjszabo