NEWPORT BEACH — Nobody said the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs were going to be easy.
Even when you're the No. 2 seed.
The Newport Harbor High boys' water polo team got a good game from San Clemente on Wednesday evening in the first round of the playoffs. And, though the Sailors felt like they could have played better, the goal is to move on.
The Sailors did, pulling away in the second quarter to earn a 14-8 victory over the Tritons at Newport Harbor High.
Newport Harbor will play host to Coach Robert Lynn's former school, Harvard-Westlake, in a quarterfinal match Saturday at 5 p.m. Harvard-Westlake defeated JSerra, 8-5, in another first-round match.
In the quarterfinals the Sailors look to be more polished.
"We've got to play much better than that if we want to do something in CIF, that's for sure," Lynn said. "The kids have to be ready to play and understand how to pay attention to details. You know, we still are working, and San Clemente had a couple of kids who shot really well. I think it's good to get it out. This is the one to get out of the way."
San Clemente junior Robby Stiefel kept the Tritons close, at least early, scoring a game-high five goals. He and Newport Harbor junior Andrew Silvers each scored twice in the first quarter, as the score was tied at 2-2.
Silvers was involved early at two meters for the Sailors, scoring on the team's opening possession then again on the power play off a nice pass from senior Ryan Fowler.
"We came out pretty hard," Silvers said. "We came out ready to play. My teammates were just giving me some good passes, exposing them. Good passes lead to easy goals."
Newport Harbor (24-1) soon took control, going on an 8-1 scoring spurt that lasted into the third quarter. The last two goals came from junior Curtis Fink, one on a six-on-five and another on a counter, giving Newport Harbor a 10-3 advantage.
The Sailors played without junior starter Preston Lee (shoulder tightness), though they expect to have him back on Saturday. Sophomore Mitchell Mendoza started for Newport Harbor, which substituted liberally to give junior Blake Grove, sophomores Ryan Warde, Joey Hopf and KJ Kelly and senior backup center Sam Edson meaningful minutes.
"They all contributed," Lynn said. "All of them collectively did a good job."
Senior utility player Hank Lee also had a good all-around game with two steals and two assists. Fink, Fowler and senior Farrel South each scored a team-high four goals for the Sunset League champion Sailors, who notched their 17th straight win. Senior goalie Koby Yokota made 13 saves.
Junior Derek Cousineau scored twice for the Tritons (16-11), and sophomore goalie Dorian Farley made five saves. San Clemente held its own after scoring a season-best 26 goals in a wild-card win over San Marcos on Tuesday.
With some younger players in the water, Lynn understood that his team felt nervous. Still, he definitely saw areas that needed improvement.
"Our passing was not good," Lynn said. "It's not that we're not capable of doing it, but I think that sometimes that comes with the anxiety of the game, the pressure. But we're not going anywhere in CIF if we can't pass the ball … The counter was our best attribute. But you're not going to see any counter goals [down the road]. If we get to [possible semifinal opponent] El Toro, we'll be lucky to have one or two counter goals, and the same thing with them.
"I'm thinking we're going to play a much better game in the next round. Every game's going to get better."
Newport Harbor knows it needs to improve. The CIF quarterfinal round is the round in which the Sailors lost last year, falling to Dos Pueblos in a minor upset.
Saturday's meeting will be the first of the season between Newport and Harvard-Westlake, the second-place team from the Mission League. Fowler said he expects the Sailors to be ready.
"We just started our taper phase, so now we're really just fine-tuning stuff and getting ourselves in the utmost physical condition," Fowler said. "We're only going to keep getting better from here. We're definitely gelling well as a team. I think that we have a really good relationship, all the guys and the coaches. They understand us, and they know how to work us hard."