Sailors make power play

NEWPORT BEACH — The south side of the Newport Harbor High pool deck — the shady side — was the place to be late on a hot Saturday afternoon.

Few people tried to sit on the other side. The Newport Harbor and Coronado boys' water polo teams didn't have a choice, as that's where their benches were located.

But there were even few people on that Newport Harbor bench as the game went on. Minus an absent starter and with two other players fouled out, Coach Robert Lynn was left with just one substitute in the fourth quarter of a tie game.

Luckily for Lynn, he still had senior Andrew Silvers.

The recent USC commit drew two late exclusions and the Sailors scored on both, helping them post a 9-8 nonleague victory over the San Diego Section powerhouse Islanders.

It was still a team victory for Newport Harbor (3-0), which won the second one-goal game at its home pool this week despite missing senior defender Dan Stevens, who Lynn said was on a trip to Harvard.

Silvers had three goals and drew a handful of exclusions, as Newport Harbor went an impressive seven for eight on its power-play opportunities while holding Coronado (0-2) to three for nine.

"Coronado's a very physical team, and they're always going to be a good game, close game," Lynn said. "When we play a physical team, we've got to do a better job at just playing and not getting engaged. We had our two centers in trouble and our guard in trouble [with foul trouble] ... we've got to conserve our energy as much as we can and be efficient on six-on-five."

Newport junior Ryan Warde also shared the team lead with three goals. Two of them came on powerful shots from the "one" position on six-on-five.

Senior Preston Lee had a standout game with two goals, three steals and three assists on the Sailors' power play, and senior Blake Grove filled in admirably as primary set defender in Stevens' absence before fouling out.

"Preston was a very good leader today," Lynn said. "He worked for the team."

The score was tied, 6-6, late in the third quarter before Warde scored just as a power play was ending. At the time, it was the Sailors' sixth goal in six such opportunities.

"We played strong," Silvers said of the six-on-five effort. "[My teammates] did well entering the ball. That's what it breaks down to, teamwork, working together. Without good passes from everybody, we really can't get anything done, but everyone was making some pretty good passes."

Newport Harbor, ranked No. 2 in CIF Southern Section Division 1, did not relinquish the lead in the fourth quarter. Silvers got separation at two meters and scored on Lee's assist with 2:26 to go, pushing the Tars' lead to 8-6. But Coronado answered back, as senior Nick Wiley scored on a six-on-five on the next possession.

The Sailors got the ball back with less than a minute to go. Silvers' shot was saved, but Newport sophomore Clay Davidson chased down the rebound. With 36 seconds left, Silvers drew yet another exclusion. Lee scored on the power play with 22 seconds left before Coronado's Wiley, who led his team with three goals, scored with 15 seconds left to again narrow the Islanders' deficit.

Last year at home Newport Harbor also beat Coronado by a goal, 11-10, on then-senior Sam Edson's goal with a second left. This time, the Sailors were simply able to play keep away to earn the close victory.

Silvers played with two exclusions the whole second half, and junior center K.J. Kelly also fouled out. But Newport Harbor found a way. Senior Curtis Fink also scored for the Sailors, and senior goalie Wyatt Muller made three saves. Fink, Warde and Mitch Mendoza added two steals each, and Mendoza added a pair of field blocks.

"We kept our composure," Silvers said. "I think that's really what it boiled down to."

Coach Randy Burgess' Coronado team is still searching for its first win. The other loss was a one-goal loss to Loyola, which is ranked No. 3 in Southern Section Division 1, right behind Newport Harbor.

"We may see Newport again," Burgess said. "Last year we played them in the finals at the Memorial Cup. We're playing quality teams, quality coaching ... we don't get a lot of stats, we don't get the 'Ws,' but we're just trying to gain a little bit of experience. That's probably our biggest weakness; we're a very inexperienced team right now. We lost 12 seniors from last year."

The Sailors are also gaining plenty of experience in the early season. They play next at the first of three in-season tournaments, the South Coast Tournament they co-host beginning Thursday.

Twitter: @mjszabo

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