LAGUNA BEACH "” Surging within a goal in the fourth quarter, the Laguna Beach High boys’ water polo team hung with Murrieta Valley in the nonleague game Saturday afternoon.
But the Breakers can’t afford to get into such big deficits to begin with.
For the second time this year, Laguna Beach couldn’t quite complete the comeback against the Nighthawks, losing, 8-6. The Breakers rebounded with a 21-5 league victory over Godinez Wednesday, improving to 3-0 in Orange Coast League.
Coach Ethan Damato saw his team battle back against Murrieta Valley, the top-ranked team in the CIF Southern Section Division III coaches’ poll. Yet, after falling behind 7-2 in the third quarter, it was obviously going to be tough for the Breakers, ranked No. 4, to catch up.
“We just spotted them a four or five-goal lead," said the frustrated Breakers coach after the game. It was too similar a pattern; at the Riverside Poly tournament, the Breakers battled back from an 8-3 deficit only to lose, 12-11, in sudden-death.
Damato said the same thing also happened over the summer when the teams played. It’s not a good trend for a team that, should the rankings hold, Laguna Beach could possibly meet in the semifinals of CIF.
“I don’t know how we’re supposed to win like that," he said. “You don’t deserve to win."
The Breakers (10-7) never led Saturday. After they tied the score at 2-2 early in the second quarter, Murrieta Valley (13-2) scored the next five goals. After Eric Vandermortel (a game-high three goals) scored on a power play, the Nighthawks had their 7-2 advantage.
“We had a lack of an offensive threat throughout the third quarter," Damato said. “They were just coming down and scoring at will for a while, and we didn’t have anything going on the other end."
Laguna Beach battled back, even after senior Robbie Quellmalz fouled out. The Breakers scored the next four goals, the last coming when junior Spencer Dodson scored on a quick pass from senior David Brunner with 4:31 left in the game. Dodson got amped, pumping his fists as it seemed Laguna had the momentum.
But just under a minute later, Brunner’s backhand shot went off the left post, Murrieta Valley got a six-on-five and scored and a chance for momentum was squandered.
“Getting Robbie out of the game helped," Murrieta Valley Coach Bryan Lynton said. “Every coach will trade October wins for November wins [in the playoffs]. We’re just happy to be on the plus-side. I think we’re right where we need to be."
The Breakers are still trying to get there.
“I’m not happy at all with the way we played today," Damato said.
Sophomore goalie Erik Henrikson had a stellar game for Laguna and finished with 10 saves. Also scoring were Brunner, Jack Clark and freshman Cameron Hauer.
In Wednesday’s win over Godinez, Robert Chew and McConnell scored four goals each, while David Brunner and Henrikson, getting some time in the field, each scored three times.
Laguna Beach plays at Newport Harbor at noon Saturday.