IRVINE — A four-goal lead nearly vanished in the blink of the eye Friday afternoon for the Newport Harbor High boys' water polo team.
Perhaps more accurately, it nearly vanished with repeated blows of a referee's whistle.
The Sailors survived foul trouble in the second half, posting a 12-9 victory over Bellarmine Prep of San Jose in the quarterfinals of the S&R Sport Cup at Woollett Aquatics Center.
Top-seeded Newport Harbor (11-1) plays league rival Los Alamitos in a tournament semifinal back at Woollett on Saturday at 12:10 p.m.
Newport Harbor Coach Robert Lynn said his team, ranked No. 2 in the CIF Southern Section Division I coaches' poll, was happy to be moving on to the semifinals. Then he amended that a bit.
"We're lucky to be moving on," Lynn said. "What we've been trying to talk about this tournament is coming out always with intensity and ready to play … It's a long day. The kids have to learn how to stay here all day, get a little bit to eat, rest and then bring it back again. We knew that Bellarmine's a very physical team, they drive, they never give up, and we get in foul trouble early."
Senior Farrel South scored a game-high four goals for the Sailors, who had two of their top players, juniors Curtis Fink and Dan Stevens, each in foul trouble. Fink was kicked out twice in the opening minutes and Stevens fouled out early in the fourth quarter.
Harbor opened up a 6-2 lead midway through the second quarter on senior Hank Lee's power play goal, but Bellarmine (12-3) chipped away. The Bells scored three straight goals to narrow the deficit to 6-5, then 7-6 on senior Mitch Hamilton's goal.
Hamilton scored a team-high three goals for Bellarmine, which was down just 8-7 after three quarters. But Newport Harbor scored the first three goals of the fourth quarter — two by South and one by senior Ryan Fowler on the counterattack — to open up an 11-8 lead.
Fowler had three goals and two steals for the Sailors, and junior Preston Lee also scored three times. Stevens had a goal and a steal and senior goalie Koby Yokota made nine saves.
"I think we went into a little bit of overconfidence again," Lynn said. "We shouldn't be overconfident. I think we're going to be getting it back together for [Saturday]. We're just trying to play good water polo and stay consistent, that's our whole thing. We want to become a team, we want to bond better, have better chemistry, work together more. I think we are still going forward on that. You've got to hand it to Bellarmine; they're a tough team."
Newport won its tournament opener over Davis, 19-3. South, Fink and Fowler scored four goals each.
The semifinal against the Griffins is a rematch of last year's tournament championship game, won by Los Al, 10-9, in overtime.