NEWPORT BEACH — With the regular season coming to end next week, Coach Robert Lynn said he never envisioned his first year at Newport Harbor to play out this way.
Through 19 boys' water polo games, the Sailors are nearly flawless, as they have only suffered one setback.
They took a step toward closing out Sunset League play with a perfect record.
Newport Harbor clinched at least a share of the league title with a 7-3 victory against Los Alamitos on Wednesday. One league match remains and the Sailors are more than likely to claim their third straight undefeated league crown.
For the most part, league has been a breeze for Newport Harbor (18-1, 4-0 in league), ranked No. 2 in the CIF Southern Section Division I poll. The Sailors, who have outscored league opponents, 58-19, still have to work to do.
"We're going to have to learn how to deal with the pressure," said Lynn, whose team finishes league play against lowly Marina next week. "Los Al did a very good job [playing] defense [against] us in the beginning."
This was supposed to be the Sailors' toughest league contest. The Griffins entered the evening atop the league standings with the Sailors.
They were even with Newport Harbor through the first 51/2 minutes. The Griffins pressed the Sailors and it worked until late in the first period.
Farrel South scored first and then Dan Stevens broke a 1-1 tie with a power-play goal in the waning seconds. The Sailors never looked back, getting a goal from Ryan Fowler and then another one from South and Stevens to put Newport Harbor ahead, 5-1, at halftime.
Fifth-ranked Los Alamitos (16-8, 3-1) was on its way to losing to Newport Harbor for the third time this year. Goalie Koby Yokota was a big reason why. He made big saves and finished with 10.
South, a senior, set up the last goal in the first half, with a cross to Stevens, who buried the shot from the right side. Stevens added his game-high third goal in the fourth quarter, when the Sailors were beginning to look ahead.
Next for Newport Harbor is the Memorial Cup Invitational in San Jose. The Sailors return to the prestigious tournament looking to get back to the title game for the second straight year.
"We're seeded first in the tournament, so we're looking to win it," said South, whose Sailors lost to Mater Dei in the finale last year.
The top-ranked Monarchs aren't making the trip to the Bay Area. The Sailors hope to see Mater Dei in the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs in a little more than three weeks.
If Newport Harbor and Mater Dei meet for a second time this season, it will happen in the section title game. Undefeated Mater Dei will receive the top seed in the postseason and Lynn expects his Sailors to earn the No. 2 seed when the section releases the playoff pairings on Nov. 6.
"I think we solidified the No. 2 seed by winning league and then beating [third-ranked] El Toro [10-9 on Oct. 15]," Lynn said.
The only team to knock off Newport Harbor this year is defending section champion Mater Dei. The Monarchs didn't just beat the Sailors.
"They won pretty handedly," said South of the Sailors' 16-7 loss to Mater Dei in the finale of the South Coast Tournament on Sept. 24.
"We're always looking for a rematch against Mater Dei."
Another shot at Mater Dei has to be the way Lynn wants to see his first year at Newport Harbor end.