CULVER CITY — En route to romping toward a second straight Prep League championship, the Pasadena Poly girls’ water polo team ran into few obstacles, especially once the nonleague season was over.
Yet, there was no denying the unsurmountable hurdle that came in the form of Culver City on Saturday.
Despite possessing a better record than the second-seeded Panthers, the Centaurs were seeded seventh and proved that their playoff position was definitely an error after toppling Poly, 10-8, in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division VI playoffs.
With the victory, the Ocean League champion Centaurs (24-1) advance to Wednesday’s divisional semifinals at Santa Ana Valley High, while denying Poly (22-3) a chance to advance to its second straight divisional title game.
“With only one loss on their record, that proves that they are a very good team,” Pasadena Poly Coach Ryan Katsuyama said. “We were just a little scared out there – I hate to say it – but we were a little scared in that first quarter and didn’t attack the goal.”
Statistically speaking, the Panthers both won the shots (37-34) and turnovers (17-15) battles, but had trouble generating a fluid offense and committed costly turnovers.
Poly trailed, 8-6, after three quarters, but gave itself some life when a shot from sophomore Lindsey Kelleher trickled past the goal plane and opposing keeper Amanda Duval at the 6:42 mark, which brought the Panthers within a score of tying.
Despite the slight momentum shift, the Panthers did not tie the game, instead committing two of their four turnovers during the quarter.
One of those turnovers was a costly gaffe deep inside Panthers’ territory that led to a goal from Ruth Basurto (four goals), off a pass from Briel Huerta, with 4:53 remaining that put the home team back up by two.
While Poly shot wide on its next possession, the Centaurs gave themselves some breathing room with a follow-up score from Huerta, who beat a three-on-one defense with an electric goal far post past Panthers keeper Natalie Sanchez-Nigolian (nine saves) with 4:20 left that gave Culver City a 10-7 advantage.
The score was both brilliant and deflating, to which the Panthers had no answer.
Over Poly’s next three possessions, one of which was a six-on-five try, the Panthers shot high each time over the Centaurs’ crossbar.
“Those were just desperation shots,” Katsuyama said. “We chose a bad day to not shoot well.”
Kelleher netted Poly’s final score with five seconds left to cap the scoring.
“We didn’t come in confident and we didn’t believe in our shooting,” Panthers senior Lauren Lantry said. “We were a little nervous coming in and they were running a different type of defense. Even though we lost, this was an amazing high school experience.”
Culver City’s plan was to limit the Panthers to mostly perimeter shots and rely on Duval to make stops, which she did.
“It was really crazy because Poly shot way harder than I ever expected,” said Duval, who finished with 20 saves. “We dropped on their harder players and it was easier for us at the end.”
Poly finished three for five on six-on-five chances and had a five-meter penalty score from Kelleher that accounted for four goals. Poly scored four goals out of its base offense on 31 attempts.
Kelleher (two assists and one steal) and Alex Clark (three steals and one assist) tied for the Panthers’ team lead of three goals, while defender Allison Woo finished with four steals, three assists and one goal.