IRVINE – Harvard-Westlake boys water polo coach Brian Flacks clinched his fists toward his players and spun toward a bench ready to leap into the pool in celebration.
The defensive masterpiece had its final championship stroke courtesy of a save by goalie Nolan Krutonog and the Wolverines completed a 5-3 win over top-seeded Newport Harbor in the CIF-SS Division 1 final Saturday at Woollett Aquatics Center.
Harvard-Westake’s bench rushed Flacks and the pool party was on. The No. 2-seeded Wolverines (25-5) rejoiced after winning their first Division 1 crown since 2014 and having dashed the Sailors’ hopes of a record 13th Division 1 crown.
The Wolverines pulled off the feat by shutting out Newport Harbor (29-2) in the first half and holding the Sailors – winners of 21 consecutive matches – without an even-strength goal.
It was a surprising and historical reversal in a rivalry that saw the Sailors rack up 27 goals against the Wolverines in two regular-season victories. Newport Harbor’s three goals were a season-low by three.
“With this group, I think a lot of things are possible,” said Flacks, whose team beat Newport Harbor 11-6 early in the season. “I don’t know if it was probable (to hold them to three goals), but it was possible. I’m really happy it happened today.”
Harvard-Westlake played an active zone defense in the lowest-scoring Division 1 final since 1967. The Wolverines helped with 6-foot-7, 250-pound center Ike Love, pressed sharp-shooters such as Makoto Kenney and Tommy Kennedy and still found time to disrupt the perimeter and shut down Newport Harbor’s power play.
“The shots that we coming at me were just not as good as they could have been,” said Krutonog, who had 11 saves. “It’s pressure and making sure we stayed more closed out on their strong shooters.”
Ryan Neapole set the tone with a steal on the perimeter early in the first period, leading to a counterattack strike by Piece Maloney. The goal gave Harvard-Westlake an early lead that it wouldn’t relinquish.
Neapole finished with four steals. Nicholas Tierney, George Avakian and Alexandru Bucur shared time guarding center.
The Sailors went 0 for 5 with the extra attacker in the first half and finished 3 for 10. Goalie Blake Jackson helped keep Newport Harbor close by making eight of his season-high 17 saves in the first half.
Newport Harbor got on the scoreboard 2:11 into the third period as Love drew an exclusion and scored off an assist by Kenney to trim Harvard-Westlake’s lead to 2-1.
The Wolverines responded with an extra-man strike by Tierney, who helped Harvard-Westlake finish 2 for 6 on the power-play.
The Mission League champion then forced a turnover on a ball-under call that led to a counterattack strike by Avakian for a 4-1 lead with 2:29 left in the third.
“I don’t think we played partially bad,” Newport Harbor coach Ross Sinclair said. “We had a lot of good looks, but we just couldn’t score.”
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