After two lob shot goals and a penalty shot, the Laguna Beach High boys’ water polo team suddenly had a 3-1 lead on Newport Harbor in the first quarter of the Surf League match Wednesday night.
The Sailors, the top-ranked team in CIF Southern Section Division 1 and 2, were being pushed. Coach Ross Sinclair would say that defense was the answer, and the players knew it.
“We know where we can be defensively,” Sailors junior goalkeeper Blake Jackson said. “They really shouldn’t score three goals in a quarter, so we just knew we needed to lock down. We just adjusted and played with more intensity the rest of the game.”
After three goals in the first four minutes of the contest, the Breakers would score just one more in the final 24. Newport Harbor shut out Laguna Beach in the second half on its way to an 8-4 victory at Corona del Mar High that clinched at least a share of the Surf League title with two matches remaining.
Newport Harbor (20-1, 4-0 in league) can secure the outright title with a win Oct. 17 against Huntington Beach. Laguna Beach (11-9, 2-2), ranked No. 8 in Division 1 and 2, also still has much to play for. The Breakers can clinch outright second place in the league, along with the guaranteed playoff berth that comes with it, by beating CdM and Huntington Beach again to close out league play.
Junior Makoto Kenney helped lead the Sailors to their 12th straight win, making plays on both ends of the pool. He had game-high totals of three goals and four steals. Kenney scored off a foul at the shot clock buzzer to tie the score at 3-3 in the second quarter. He then added a lob goal to give the Sailors a 4-3 lead, their first of the match, with 3:48 remaining in the half.
“He really stepped up defensively and was way more engaged, and then it led to offensive opportunities for him,” Sinclair said. “He put them away. I kind of had a moment where I told him, ‘Don’t wait for the defense to settle, just read the play in front of you and shoot the ball.’ He’s a really good shooter, and he doesn’t give himself nearly as much credit as he should.”
Seniors Jonny Rimlinger, Makana Sanita and Jack White, as well as juniors Ike Love and Tommy Kennedy, added one goal each for the winners. Jackson made seven saves.
Laguna Beach got a penalty shot goal by junior James Nolan to tie the score at 4-4 at halftime. But the Breakers would not score in the second half. Laguna Beach senior co-captain Colton Gregory, who leads his team with 61 goals this season, did not score in the match.
“It just shows how good we’ve been playing this year, being able to rally at halftime and treat it like a completely different game,” Jackson said. “We really came back well and I was proud of everyone.”
Freshman Logan McCarroll impressed for Laguna Beach, often posting up and drawing three exclusions. He also led the Breakers with two goals. Senior co-captain Will Clark and Nolan had one goal each, while junior goalkeeper Caden Capobianco made five saves and added two steals.
The Breakers also were solid defensively in holding the Sailors to eight goals, the fewest they have scored during their winning streak.
“Everyone in this league gets blown out [by Newport Harbor], and we’re not getting blown out,” first-year Laguna Beach coach Robert Grayeli said. “That’s our thing. We’re going to give Newport a good game. They’re the best team in the country, and we understand that. We’re not scared of that, but we respect it … At the end of the day, we’re going to play hard and keep coming at you.”