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PREP WATER POLO SOUTHERN SECTION PLAYOFFS : Esperanza Comes Back to Make Semifinals for 4th Year in Row

The Esperanza water polo team rallied to beat Tustin, 13-9, Wednesday at El Dorado and advanced to the Southern Section Division II semifinals for the fourth consecutive season.

The Aztecs, who will play Costa Mesa Friday night at Long Beach Belmont Plaza, have won two of the last three Division II titles, including last year’s, but they have struggled at times this season.

Early in Wednesday’s game, it appeared the struggles were continuing. Tustin shut out Esperanza in the first quarter and took a 3-0 lead two minutes into the second, when Mike Foley made a four-meter penalty shot. Esperanza got two quick goals by Aaron Poole and Chad Simendinger to make it, 3-2, then one of the Aztecs’ best players made a potentially demoralizing mistake.

Brian Mericle made a steal and attempted to flip the ball back to Esperanza goalkeeper Dan Allen. But it went into the corner of the goal.

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“Had it happened to someone other than Brian it might have been a disaster,” Esperanza Coach Doug Kimberly said. “To his credit, he shook it off and told his teammates that he owed them one.”

Mericle quickly made good on his debt, scoring on Esperanza’s next possession and disrupting Tustin’s offense. Mericle’s goal started a 5-0 run that gave the fourth-seeded Aztecs (14-14) a 7-4 lead with 4 minutes 46 seconds left in the third quarter.

Tustin (14-12), which lost to Esperanza in the semifinals last season, cut the lead to one goal three times, the last on a goal by Mike Foley with 5:06 left to make it, 9-8. Foley, however, received his third ejection and fouled out of the game 20 seconds later, finishing with four goals.

Poole, who scored a game-high six goals, scored on the ensuing man-up situation and Chad Simendinger (four goals) and Kevin Griffith each scored to give Esperanza a 12-8 lead.

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At that point, Tustin had three minutes left to make a run, but without Foley, the Tillers lacked firepower and could manage only a man-advantage goal by John Biery with 2:05 left.

In other Division II quarterfinal games:

Costa Mesa 13, El Dorado 7--Robert Grayeli and Sean Hylton each had four goals for Costa Mesa. Justin Taylor had 14 saves for the Mustangs (21-4), who will play Esperanza in a semifinal game at Belmont Plaza on Friday.

Marina 16, Estancia 3--Although Estancia held third-seeded Marina to four goals in the first half, Marina scored 12 second-half goals and advanced to the semifinals to play Servite at Belmont Plaza Friday.

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Stever O’Rourke scored five goals and Keith Haefner added four for Marina (22-6). Bryan DeWilde had 22 saves and teammate Chad Bollenbach had two goals for Estancia, which finished the season 22-5.

Servite 10, Los Alamitos 9--Mike Lopez scored four goals and David Cramp added three for visiting Servite (21-7). John Pearce scored three goals for Los Alamitos (18-10).


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