LONG BEACH — Both times they played last season, the Newport Harbor High and Long Beach Wilson boys’ water polo teams were separated by a goal.
A season-ending overtime loss in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs hurt more to the Sailors than a season-opening victory felt good.
Newport Harbor returned to the scene of that postseason heartache, Belmont Plaza outdoor pool, on Thursday to again play the Bruins in the season opener.
“I think it added to the anxiety of [this] game,” Newport Harbor Coach Ross Sinclair said of last year’s CIF game, in which the Sailors lost a three-goal lead in the fourth quarter. “It was definitely in their mind. We talked about it in practice, talked about it before the game. We kind of said let’s leave it where it was … and I don’t think we necessarily left it. It was still in some people’s minds.”
This time, the Sailors came out with the win. Senior Connor Turnbow-Lindenstadt scored four goals as Newport Harbor posted a 10-7 victory.
But Sinclair was less than satisfied with the outcome. The second-year coach watched one of his players get “rolled” in the final minute for talking trash to the opposition after scoring a goal.
“It was a bad game,” Sinclair said. “We talked about playing with some composure, we talked about playing with some discipline and controlling the tempo. I don’t think we did that at all. We talked about establishing the counterattack game, and I thought that opened up in the second quarter and we never came back to it, so there was no consistency there.
“I don’t think we were really in control. I think they played harder than us, with more confidence. I think we were just a little bit more talented and our goalie play was the difference. In order for us to really separate ourselves from the middle of the pack and get to that top tier, we have to play with way more intensity, more control. And we’ve got to have better leadership.”
The goalie play, indeed, was a highlight. Junior Max Sandberg, playing in his first varsity game, had 12 saves and made three steals. One of the saves came on a penalty shot in the third quarter, another on a one-on-nobody late in the first half.
“I was really nervous,” said Sandberg, who was the team’s frosh/soph goalie last year. “First game, first season for me. I really had to step up for the team. I know this is going to be a good season for us … The first quarter wasn’t the best, but I kind of just settled down and got into a rhythm of what I’m used to. I just like to play, and I’m glad I’m playing.”
The Sailors fell behind, 3-1, in the first quarter before rattling off five straight goals to take a 6-3 halftime lead. Turnbow-Lindenstadt, junior center Jackson Westerman, senior lefty Cole Brosnan and sophomore Charlie Covina all scored in the second quarter, as Newport Harbor used its speed to its advantage.
Wilson’s Mark Applegate and Garret Harryman scored in the third quarter to cut the hosts’ deficit to a single goal, but Newport Harbor responded. Ryan Brosnan made a skip-shot from past mid-tank at the third-quarter buzzer, giving the Sailors a 7-5 advantage. Brosnan raised both of his arms, seemingly in disbelief.
Turnbow-Lindenstadt scored from five meters early in the fourth quarter, then again two minutes later on a lob shot as the Sailors doubled their advantage.
Jason Grew and John Rankin also scored for Newport Harbor. Westerman led the team with four exclusions drawn, though Newport Harbor struggled on the power play (three for 10).
Cole Brosnan led the Sailors with two assists, and freshman Makoto Kenney was among other players with a helper. Brosnan and fellow senior Nic Rimlinger are the Sailors’ co-captains for the second straight season.
Jack Berg led Long Beach Wilson with two goals.
Newport Harbor plays at 6 p.m. Saturday at Coronado. The Sailors’ home opener is Wednesday, against Foothill.
“We’re definitely going to be better than last year,” Turnbow-Lindenstadt said. “We want to win league, and we think we can do that … It’s just some rust starting off the season. Each game, we’ll just keep getting better, just continue playing more as a team. [We made] some individual mistakes [today], but they’re things we can correct.”