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A shooting star across the pool. A dream come true. A once in-a-lifetime high school match.
Those were some of the descriptions from Newport Harbor’s boys water polo team Wednesday night after it edged visiting Harvard-Westlake 12-11 in the CIF-SS Open Division semifinals on a stunning, buzzer-beating goal by Connor Ohl.
The sophomore attacker and transfer from Connecticut narrowly beat the clock at the end of regulation by scoring on the power-play on a shot from the wing.
The goal ignited a wild celebration by the Newport Harbor bench and faithful as the two-time defending Open Division champion kept its hopes of a three-peat alive.
“It was a dream,” Ohl said of the goal, which followed an exclusion drawn by Peter Castillo with 14 seconds left. “It was extremely close. It could have gone either way. The shot came off my hand and the buzzer sounded as it was probably leaving my fingertips.”
Newport Harbor (26-3) faces No. 1 seed and undefeated JSerra (26-0) in the finals Saturday at Mt. SAC in Walnut.
Video replay showed Ohl’s cross-cage shot in the air and headed toward the far corner with 1 second remaining on the shot clock.
“It looked like a shooting star in the sky,” said Castillo, a UCLA commit who drew his ninth and final exclusion coming out a Newport Harbor timeout with 31 seconds left.
— Dan Albano (@ocvarsityguy) November 9, 2023
Ohl’s fourth goal — all of which came on the power-play — capped Newport Harbor’s rally from an 8-5 deficit in the middle of the third period. It also provided the most dramatic victory of the Sailors’ resurgence under coach Ross Sinclair at his alma mater.
“I haven’t been part of a game like this in a high school setting,” said Sinclair, who has guided the Sailors to five consecutive appearances in the top-division final. “It was fun to be part of and it was fun to be able to have the opportunity to go run a play, and execute a play, and run a 6-on-5, and execute, and get out that way.”
Newport Harbor called timeout with 31 seconds following a save by goalie Luke Harris on a shot from center.
The Sailors then drove Castillo from the top of the perimeter into center and made four passes before left-handed sophomore Mason Netzer slipped a pin-point entry pass into 2 meters. Castillo took the ball with his right hand and drew the exclusion as he turned toward the Harvard-Westlake cage.
On the winning goal, Netzer faked a shot from his wing before passing cross-pool to Ohl.
Sinclair praised Netzer for the pass. The coach, Ohl and Harvard-Westlake coach Jack Grover also credited Castillo for drawing the exclusion. It was a huge play in the team’s fourth and biggest match of the fall.
“I got to commend Peter on his leadership,” Grover said of Castillo, who scored five goals. “We’ve done a really, really good job of shutting that guy out of games this year. He’s never made it about himself, and he finally got his game.”
Castillo’s play at center helped Newport Harbor go 6 of 13 with the extra attacker and 1 for 1 on penalty shots. Harvard-Westlake went 2 for 5 on the power-play and made its only penalty.
The Wolverines led 4-2 after the first period and netted a buzzer-beater at halftime to push their lead to 7-5.
Castillo scored from center with 41 seconds left in the third period to give Newport Harbor its first lead at 9-8. The score knotted three more times before the dramatic conclusion.
“Top-three high school game I’ve seen,” Hall of Fame El Toro coach Don Stoll said.
Ohl’s stat line also included five steals.
Left-hander Dean Strauster had four goals to lead Harvard-Westlake.
“It was a beautiful game but sometimes certain things don’t go your favor,” Grover said. “It’s tough but I’m really proud of my guys.”
Also in the Open Division:
JSerra 14, Corona del Mar 6: Ryder Dodd returned from helping the U.S. men’s team secure a 2024 Olympic berth at the Pan American Games to net seven goals for the host Lions. JSerra advanced to its second straight Open final.
In Division 2:
San Marcos 13, Portola 6: Center Luke Porter scored three goals and Noam Garibi, Kasra Sowlat and Ryder Tonkovich each added one in the loss for the visiting Bulldogs.
In Division 3:
Canyon 16, Murrieta Valley 14: Goalie Aidan Demkiw and center Adam Hermreck — both seniors — played well to help the visiting Comanches (26-5) reach their first section final. They play undefeated El Segundo (31-0) on Saturday at Mt. SAC.
In Division 4:
Woodbridge 11, San Dimas 7: Ben Chan made 12 saves, including a penalty shot in the first half, to help the Warriors (26-9) reach their first section final. Woodbridge will play Bonita on Saturday at Mt. SAC.
In Division 6:
Anaheim 11, Chaffey 8: The host Colonists, in their fourth season since reviving the program, opened a 9-6 lead in the third period and advanced to their first section final. They will play Summit in the finals Saturday at Mt. SAC.
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