Newport Harbor boys’ water polo shows power, eases past Huntington Beach

Converting on the power play is an important part of success in water polo.

Newport Harbor High certainly showed its power Wednesday night in a key Surf League boys’ game against visiting Huntington Beach.

The Sailors not only drew 11 power-play chances, but they converted seven of them. That helped them run away with the game against their rival, posting a 15-6 victory.

Newport Harbor (16-1, 2-0 in league) played like the top-ranked team in CIF Southern Section Division 1, a spot the Sailors occupy this week for the first time this season after winning the 32-team South Coast Tournament on Saturday. Huntington Beach (6-4, 1-1) is ranked No. 8 in Division 1.

Junior center Ike Love continued his recent strong play for the Sailors, scoring five goals and drawing five exclusions.

“It was boys versus men,” Huntington Beach coach Sasa Branisavljevic said. “That’s what I saw. Ike is a fantastic center. Him, Makoto [Kenney], the lefty [Tommy Kennedy], Jack White, they are all fantastic players. They’re not only athletic, but they work together well. We definitely need to learn from them today … They see the game at a higher level.”

Senior Makana Sanita had three goals for the Sailors, while White and Kenney each scored twice. Jonny Rimlinger had a goal and two assists, while Kennedy had a goal, four steals and a game-high five assists.

Goalkeeper Blake Jackson made five saves for Newport Harbor, which led 6-1 at halftime and 15-3 in the fourth quarter before the Oilers scored the last three goals.

It was boys versus men. Ike is a fantastic center. ... Him, Makoto [Kenney], the lefty [Tommy Kennedy], Jack White, they are all fantastic players.

Sasa Branisavljevic, Huntington Beach High coach

The 6-foot-7 Love spearheaded the Sailors’ attack, helping them win their eighth straight match.

“Our six-on-five offensively is a huge part of our game, and I think our team is pretty good at converting them,” Love said. “Through the game, we got going. We started to convert more.”

Love said he gained confidence over the summer, when he and Kenney played for the U.S. men’s youth national team at the UANA Junior Pan-American Championships in Clearwater, Fla. Love and Kenney helped Team USA earn silver.

“I think he’s really comfortable now in that [center] position,” Sailors coach Ross Sinclair said. “He understands the timing, his role. His mechanics are something we’ve worked on a lot … and he’s a smart kid that wants to be good. He takes all of the coaching he gets and is able to apply it, or at least try.”

Senior Jake Liechty had three assists and a field block for the Sailors, while his younger brother, Eli Liechty, a sophomore center, drew two exclusions and also scored one goal.

Newport Harbor hosts San Diego Cathedral Catholic on Saturday at 11 a.m. The Sailors’ next Surf League game is against Back Bay rival Corona del Mar on Wednesday.

Huntington Beach High's Jack Green (3) scores one of his two goals while Newport Harbor's Reed Stemler (8) defends during the first half of a Surf League match on Wednesday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Junior Reed Stemler had two steals for the Sailors and played solid defense on Huntington Beach senior Jack Green, who did score twice.

Senior Reilly Pfeiffer also scored twice for the Oilers, and senior Peter Loomis and junior Myles Simpson added goals.

Goalkeeper Jacob Pyle made four saves for Huntington Beach, which has another difficult game Friday. The Oilers host Los Angeles Loyola, ranked No. 3 in Division 1, at 4 p.m.

Help is on the horizon for Huntington Beach. Branisavljevic said that junior attacker Cooper Haddad, a transfer from Mater Dei, will become eligible on Tuesday following his 30-day sit-out period. Haddad is a UCLA commit.

“That’s going to be a big boost for us, definitely,” Branisavljevic said. “We’re kind of missing firepower. We’re not throwing the ball at the goal hard enough.”

Twitter: @mjszabo