HUNTINGTON BEACH — Rhetoric was in no short supply on the night of the first presidential debate.
The front runner in the Sunset League boys' water polo race? That was to be decided in the pool, where Newport Harbor High faced Los Alamitos.
A day after a tough loss, the Sailors sure showed they could bounce back.
Newport Harbor hung on for an 8-7 victory over Los Al in the league opener Wednesday night at Ocean View High.
The Sailors (9-2) jumped ahead in their quest for their third straight league title. It took a team effort, as junior Mitchell Mendoza was sick and did not play until the fourth quarter.
But Newport Harbor relied on substitutes like senior Blake Grove, junior K.J. Kelley and sophomore Clay Davison to step up in a battle of Division 1 powerhouses.
No. 2 Newport Harbor showed improvement after Tuesday's 11-8 nonleague loss to No. 5 Loyola. An obvious area was in the six-on-five attack, where the Sailors converted five of nine opportunities against the No. 4 Griffins (7-3).
"We were able to get some good kickouts on some post-ups and some drives," Sailors Coach Robert Lynn said. "We had some good momentum going there. We were working together well, driving-wise, and that was better than the Loyola game when we didn't have a lot of movement. Our six-on-five was better today."
They were three for three on man-up in the first quarter, two goals coming from senior Curtis Fink and one from senior Dan Stevens.
Fink and Stevens shared the team lead with three goals each. Senior captain Preston Lee added a goal, as did senior center Andrew Silvers.
"We took the Loyola game as more of a learning experience," Fink said. "We realized what it took to get in the zone. We took that loss, and we weren't really afraid or put down by it. We used it to build upon it. We just knew we had to come out strong in this game. Honestly, I think our team did the right thing and came together."
The score was tied 5-5 at halftime. Stevens scored on extra early in the third, but then Los Al came back even after Chandler Jarrels finished off a pretty give-and-go play from Kenneth Keller.
Silvers scored from two meters to again give Newport Harbor the lead, before Jarrels found the back of the net on the power play to again even the score at 7-7. Los Al converted three of six on the power play.
But then Lee scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal, from about five meters with 19 seconds left to play in the third quarter.
Neither team scored in the fourth. Newport Harbor senior goalie Wyatt Muller (nine saves) was a big reason why the Griffins came up empty.
Muller made five saves in the final quarter, including a big one midway through the quarter when a Griffins player was open on the counterattack.
"Wyatt was really big for us in the last quarter," Lynn said. "I mean, he was the Great Wall of China today, keeping the Mongolian herd out. That's what he did today. He kept Genghis Khan out, because they were coming ... He stepped up big."
Muller's final save was on a six-on-five shot from Jarrels with less than two minutes left, but Los Al had two more chances. Keller's outside shot careened off the post. Then, with less than a minute left, Jarrels shot off a foul but he was ruled to be inside five meters, giving the ball back to the Sailors.
Newport Harbor's challenging week is still not near over. The Sailors are the defending champions of the S&R; Sport Cup, which begins Friday and also features teams like Long Beach Wilson, Los Al and Corona del Mar.
"We have to come out fired up," Fink said. "At this point, at midseason, we're still training hard and I think it's paying off. We're seeing results. It's paying off, but obviously we've still got to train hard from here on out."