The Newport Harbor High boys’ water polo team played without arguably its best field player Wednesday night against rival Corona del Mar.
Sailors coach Ross Sinclair said that junior attacker Makoto Kenney, last year’s Daily Pilot Dream Team Player of the Year, was serving a one-game suspension after he was ejected from the Sailors’ 11-10 nonleague win over San Diego Cathedral Catholic last Saturday.
One thing that is bigger than any individual player, though, is team defense.
Newport Harbor clamped down on CdM. The host Sailors held the Sea Kings to one goal in the first half of a 13-5 win, staying unbeaten as the first half of Surf League play concluded.
The Sailors (18-1, 3-0 in league) are top-ranked in CIF Southern Section Division 1 and 2. They looked the part against No. 15 CdM (7-7, 0-3), which sits in last place in the league. It was their second straight blowout victory over the Sea Kings, as they won last year’s nonleague affair 8-2.
Junior goalkeeper Blake Jackson made eight saves Wednesday, and Newport Harbor used a balanced attack to win the first Battle of the Bay match of the season. Senior Makana Sanita led the way with three goals, while seniors Jack White and Jake Liechty, as well as junior center Ike Love and junior left-hander Tommy Kennedy, scored two goals each. Jonny Rimlinger and Eli Liechty each tallied a goal.
Sinclair pointed to the contribution of someone like Rimlinger, who came off the bench to add two assists and three steals.
“He provided that spark off the bench,” Sinclair said. “He’s someone we need to be able to count on if we want to make a serious run [in CIF]. If he can provide games like that, we’re an even deeper team.”
CdM started well, leading for much of the first quarter. Junior sharp-shooter Tanner Pulice scored off a foul outside five meters with 5:23 remaining in the first quarter. The Sea Kings held that lead until Kennedy scored a six-on-five goal with 20 seconds remaining in the quarter.
But Newport Harbor outscored the visitors 4-0 in the second quarter to surge ahead. Pulice would not score his second goal until the fourth quarter, when the Sea Kings trailed 12-4 in the closing minutes.
Jake Liechty guarded Pulice much of the contest.
“Preparing for this game, we knew that Tanner shot well over 50% of their shots,” Liechty said. “We knew that their offensive power was definitely coming out of him. That was definitely our biggest goal, taking away that power defensively. We wanted to [foul him out], which unfortunately didn’t happen, but I think shutting down his 50% shot rate for their offense was really helpful. He did get two goals, but I thought we did force other players on their team to shoot the ball, which definitely helped our defense into our counterattack.”
Matt Ueberroth, Gavin Reed and Cole Fisher added goals for CdM, which converted one of its three power-play opportunities. Newport Harbor went three for eight with the extra player.
“In the first quarter, we were doing a lot of the things we were supposed to be doing,” CdM coach Kareem Captan said. “I thought the success of the first quarter kind of led to the fall of the second quarter … we kind of let up on a lot of those details. For example, crashing on two meters, the ability to close out on shooters and make blocks. We lost focus on all of those details that worked so well for us in the first quarter.
“I’m proud of the boys. All the way down the last second, they kept going. I know Newport has had a strong season and they were strong tonight. For us, I think that our energy was there, our heart was there, but our execution was not there.”
Newport Harbor hosts No. 2-ranked Studio City Harvard Westlake in a key nonleague game Saturday at 5:30 p.m., while CdM competes in the 16-team S&R Sport Invitational beginning Friday at Irvine’s Woollett Aquatics Center. The Sea Kings open against Lafayette Acalanes on Friday at 11:05 a.m.