NEWPORT BEACH — A standing-room only crowd showed up for Saturday afternoon’s Battle of the Bay boys’ water polo game at Newport Harbor High.
Corona del Mar supporters packed the visitors’ sidelines, most of them wearing T-shirts made just for the occasion.
A few of them brought signs, one of which even questioned the physique of Newport Harbor senior Farrel South.
South was injured earlier this year, but he’s lost weight and is in shape. He made the sign look downright silly when he rifled in a shot from nine meters midway through the third quarter.
South scored a game-high four goals as the Sailors took the city championship game, 9-5.
“I felt like it was going to be a battle, and it was a battle,” he said. “Even though we had a pretty solid lead, I still felt like it was pretty physical and we really needed to keep our guard up. But yeah, I thought it was a great game. It’s competitive every year.”
Fifteen total exclusions were called, but what each team did with those six-on-five opportunities also told the story. Newport Harbor went five for seven on the power-play, while holding CdM to just two for eight.
“It was the difference in the last game too,” CdM Coach Barry O’Dea said, referring to the Sailors’ 9-7 victory over the Sea Kings in the final of the S&R Sport Cup on Oct. 8. “We execute our shots here, we put shots in the back of the net like we can, then we’re talking about a different ballgame right now.”
Junior Curtis Fink had three goals for the Sailors. Senior Hank Lee and junior Preston Lee each scored once for Newport Harbor, and the younger Lee and Andrew Silvers each had three steals.
Senior goalie Koby Yokota had nine saves for Newport Harbor (17-1), which won its 10th straight game and avenged last year’s Battle of the Bay loss at CdM.
South had six goals in that game last year but suffered through a rough shooting night. This time the Sailors went ahead early and kept the lead.
“I just think we’re getting stronger as a team,” South said. “With the coaching that we’re getting, this is only the beginning.”
Newport Harbor, ranked No. 2 in CIF Southern Section Division I, opened up a 3-1 lead in the first quarter. Two of the goals came on six-on-five, but CdM’s Wes Sherburne converted a penalty shot drawn by Colby Watson to keep the Sea Kings close. They could have had the lead, if two shots didn’t careen off the crossbar in the opening quarter.
Near the end of the quarter, the Sailors’ Ryan Fowler was whistled for an exclusion. Newport Harbor Coach Robert Lynn eventually thought the referee was motioning him back into the game. Fowler went back in, but the referee actually was just signaling for the girls at the desk to run the clock.
O’Dea wanted another exclusion on Fowler and another penalty shot for CdM. Instead, the referees conferred and restarted the original exclusion period.
“That’s a motion to run the clock,” O’Dea said. “You play water polo long enough, you coach water polo long enough, I’m sorry but everyone knows that’s not a wave-in. That changes the whole game … It’s all good. We lost; they beat us. They played better than we did today.”
CdM senior Charlie Howarth did score on the six-on-five, narrowing the gap to 3-2. But Newport Harbor scored twice right at the end of the half. Preston Lee scored on the counterattack with 45 seconds left in the quarter, then his steal led to Fink’s goal with 11 seconds left before halftime.
The strikes were part of four unanswered Sailors goals, stretching into the third quarter. Hank Lee scored after junior Dan Stevens flipped him a pass out of a double-team, and the Sailors had upped their lead to 7-2.
Corona del Mar (15-5), top-ranked in Division II, scored just two “natural” goals. Sherburne and Howarth scored twice each, and senior Ari Marks added a goal. Senior goalie A.J. Santa Maria made five saves.
“We knew that we had to press pretty hard,” South said. “I feel that’s where we executed today.”
Fowler and Stevens both fouled out in the fourth quarter, but the Sea Kings never cut the lead under four goals. The defense by Stevens and South combined to hold CdM’s leading scorer Ben Zepfel scoreless, though the senior center did draw five exclusions.
“Danny’s a good defender, and he makes every center work hard,” Lynn said. “He’s a strong kid.”
Both Newport Harbor and CdM are improving before November, when they want to make deep postseason runs. The rivals could meet again next weekend, in San Jose at the Bellarmine/Finis Memorial Cup.
The progress is evident to Lynn.
“Barry’s team is getting better, you know, but so is ours,” he said. “It’s a testament to how hard they’re working this year. We’re trying to build good habits, and little by little they’re starting to come out and be different players. It’s a long process to develop kids, even men, and these guys are doing it. It shows in their passing, it shows in their shooting and it shows in their defense ... That’s what water polo’s all about.”
More about that to Lynn, and less about signs taunting the opposing team’s best player.
“I think we did our talking in the water and with the frame of the game,” Lynn said. “They showed a good character.”