IRVINE — It was physical from the very start.
Players from the Newport Harbor High and Corona del Mar boys' water polo teams never stopped jostling for position. The game had a playoff atmosphere with CIF still a month away, and it was easy to understand why.
This was the teams' first rivalry match of the year, under the lights in the title match of the S&R Sport Cup.
But the Sailors did the most important thing as tempers momentarily flared up Saturday night. They went up on the scoreboard at Woollett Aquatics Center.
Top-seeded Newport Harbor built a lead in the first half and defeated CdM, 9-7, for the title.
As an assistant coach on the U.S. men's senior national team and co-coach of the junior national team, Robert Lynn has coached in plenty of intense games against powerhouse European programs. The first-year Newport Harbor coach smiled when asked about his first official matchup against the Sailors' Back Bay rivals.
"It's intense, it's good," Lynn said. "Yeah, it's a rivalry. The Battle of the Bay is going to be a battle of the bay. It's going to be fun."
Newport Harbor (13-1) had more fun Saturday, scoring the first four goals of the game. Andrew Silvers, who had a strong game with two goals and two exclusions drawn, helped make sure Newport Harbor did not earn silver at the tournament.
He scored from two meters on the Sailors' first possession. Fellow junior Curtis Fink also scored in the first quarter, then Silvers and senior Farrel South scored on six-on-five shots in the second. With 4:21 left before halftime, it was 4-0, Newport Harbor.
The Sailors, ranked No. 2 in the CIF Southern Section Division I coaches' poll, played the kind of team water polo that Lynn has been preaching. It showed in their power-play, where they converted five of seven opportunities against the Sea Kings.
"We're working for each other," Lynn said. "We're sacrificing more, and you can just see it's paying off. We're attacking the blocks a little better, working for each other on our legs a little better and [showing more] patience. Today our meeting was talking about being patient on six-on-five … most of the time it was very controlled."
Corona del Mar (10-3), top-ranked in Division II, could not quite come all the way back from another slow start. Jake Wyatt scored before halftime, then Ari Marks scored from the outside with 5:52 left in the third quarter, cutting the deficit in half.
It would not last long. After South drew an exclusion, senior Ryan Fowler scored to give Newport Harbor a 5-2 lead. Dan Stevens and South added goals and suddenly the Sailors were rolling, up 7-2 late in the third quarter.
Newport Harbor led 9-5 in the final minute before CdM scored twice to close out the game.
Lynn said he appreciated the effort from Stevens, one of the team's top defenders who he said has been playing with biceps tendinitis.
Newport Harbor also got perhaps its best game of the tournament from senior goalie Koby Yokota, who made 11 saves.
"We've been working a lot on defense in our practices," Yokota said. "We've really improved in pretty much everything … It's pretty fun to beat your rival in the final game."
South led all players with three goals. Fowler and Silvers each scored twice for the Sailors, and Preston Lee and Fink each had a pair of steals.
Both teams want to make sure they're ready for the rematch in the Battle of the Bay. The nonleague game is Oct. 22 at Newport Harbor.
"We know how we should prepare," Fink said. "Honestly, I think we should have beat them by more, especially when you have a 4-0 lead. There were a couple slip-ups on defense and a couple slip-ups on offense. But now, you know, we're looking forward to Battle of the Bay and making [the score] a bigger gap."
Ben Zepfel led CdM with two goals, and he also drew four Sailors exclusions. Reid Chase, Charlie Howarth and Wes Sherburne also scored for the Sea Kings.
CdM Coach Barry O'Dea said his team, which missed on two power-play chances in the first quarter, would learn from the experience.
"We beat them in the second half, which is what we were really keying on," O'Dea said. "We put away a couple of our opportunities early, we're talking about a different ballgame. [But] I'm happy and my guys are happy. Of course they're disappointed in losing, but you know, we're in the finals at Woollett. It's a good thing, and it's all experience right now. It's all part of the process."
Each Back Bay team reached the final with relatively easy semifinal wins. Newport Harbor got past Sunset League rival Los Alamitos, 12-7, while CdM toppled Coronado, 14-11. Neither team trailed in its semifinal.
South paced the Sailors against Los Al with four goals and three steals. Fink also had a strong game, with three goals and five steals. Stevens scored twice and Fowler, Preston Lee and Silvers added single goals.
Silvers also earned two five-meter penalty shots. Yokota made six saves for the Sailors, who played strong defense. Newport Harbor had 12 steals but was not whistled for an exclusion until the final minute of the game.
Los Alamitos, which had Andrew Reynolds and Kenneth Keller each score twice, got no closer than four goals in the second half. The Sailors, who have now defeated the Griffins twice this season, meet them in a key league game Oct. 26.
Zepfel led Corona del Mar with four goals against Coronado, the San Diego Section power. Junior Kyle Trush scored a season-high three goals and Howarth also scored three times.
Sherburne scored twice, while Marks and Chase also added goals for CdM. Wyatt had three assists and senior goalie A.J. Santa Maria had a strong game with 10 saves. Two of them came in succession with Coronado on a power play with less than three minutes left, preserving the Sea Kings' three-goal lead at the time.
Los Alamitos defeated Coronado, 13-5, for third place.