Panthers ready for `last' showdown

PASADENA — Talk of destiny quickly turned into reality for the Pasadena Poly boys’ water polo team Saturday afternoon.

Moments before the Panthers dispatched Hacienda League co-champion Walnut, 20-9, in a somewhat simple fashion at their CIF Southern Section Division V quarterfinal home match, it was known that Poly’s next opponent would be divisional rival La Serna.

Both the third-ranked Panthers (24-2) and second-seeded Lancers (22-7) will square off at Wednesday’s divisional semifinal at 6 p.m. at Mt. San Antonio College in what will be the sixth meeting over the last three years between the two teams with La Serna holding a commanding 4-1 advantage.

“Both the times we played La Serna this year, we lost to them. They are our only two losses and both were in overtime and both by a goal,” Poly Coach Ryan Katsuyama said. “Granted they have the upper hand, but as the old saying goes, it’s tough to beat a team three times in one season.”

It may also be challenging for the Del Rio League champion Lancers, who earned advancement to the semifinals via a 14-10 win over Burbank on Saturday, to contend with a Panthers squad that was dominant Saturday afternoon.

Poly wasted little time in allowing Walnut (13-14) to hang around, as the Panthers scored on four straight possessions midway through the first quarter in eventually ending the first period with a 7-2 advantage built on a pair of goals each from seniors Chris McWilliams and Kelly McGee and junior Brock Hudnut.

“What makes this team special is that we’re a real good group of guys. If you look at us, none of us is really big,” said McGee, who led his squad with five goals and six steals. “But we’ve come together and are playing our best.

“We’re really excited to play La Serna. The first time we lost by a goal and the second time I wasn’t there, so we look forward to one last chance.”

Before La Serna, however, the Panthers virtually put away the Mustangs with stout defense in the second and an opportunistic offense in the third.

In could be argued that Walnut made its best push in the second quarter as the Mustangs forced four turnovers and held the Panthers to only one goal each from Omar Dairi and McGee.

However, Poly still won the quarter, 2-1, thanks in part to five of Panthers goalie Josh Ball’s game-high 12 saves.

Two of Ball’s signature stops came with 30 seconds of each other, when Ball blocked a one-on-one opportunity from Daniel Martinez with three minutes remanning in the quarter followed by acrobatic leaping save of a deflected shot from Roland Chen with 2:32 remanning.

“The defense was playing well and when they were able to get a few shots off, I just happened to be there to make the save.

In the third period, Spencer Rogers netted all three of his goal as the Panthers went ahead 14-5 and sealed the win.

“I’m excited to face La Serna because we played them early in the season,” Ball said, “and we’re looking forward to showing them how much we’ve improved since then.”

Dennis Grover added three goals for Poly.

La Serna defeated Poly, 8-7, in nonleague play and, 11-10, in the Los Altos Tournament this season.

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