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Costa Mesa boys’ water polo can’t hold lead in CIF Division 3 quarterfinal

Costa Mesa boys’ water polo can’t hold lead in CIF Division 3 quarterfinal
Costa Mesa's Caedmon Fisher tosses one past Santa Barbara goalie Hunter Brownell, just ahead of Santa Barbara's Julian Bacon (Spencer Grant)

The last goal in the sparkling prep boys’ water polo career of Costa Mesa High senior Caedmon Fisher came with 23 seconds left in the match.

The No. 4-seeded Mustangs ran out of time in the CIF Southern Section Division 3 quarterfinal against visiting Santa Barbara, suffering a 9-8 loss. But the result might not have been as important in characterizing Fisher as the action that followed it.

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Minutes after the devastating defeat at Costa Mesa High on Saturday night, Fisher was back out on the pool deck with a mission in mind. Still in his green Speedo, he classily walked over to the Dons’ huddle to congratulate them on the victory.

“I’m just proud of the way my team played, proud of the way we finished,” Fisher said. “It’s the furthest I’ve ever made it. I wish I could have gone to [Irvine’s Woollett Aquatics Center for the CIF semifinals], but they earned it, so I’m going to go congratulate them.”

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Santa Barbara (19-15) will play top-seeded Rancho Cucamonga Los Osos in the Division 3 semifinals Wednesday night at Woollett. For Costa Mesa (17-10), it was still a successful season, as the Mustangs won their first league title since 2004 and made their first CIF quarterfinal appearance since 2008.

Fisher is the prodigious left-hander who burst into the spotlight in 2013, helping the Costa Mesa Aquatics Club win the 12-and-under classic division title at the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics. He finished his big senior season Saturday night with five goals. He did not quite reach the Mesa single-season record of 161 goals set by Corey Delahunt in 1990, finishing with 153, third in the Mustangs’ single-season annals.

But his legacy in the program means more than a number.

“We started this road eight years ago with Caedmon and [senior] Teak [Zachary],” said Mustangs coach Dustin Serrano, who coaches his alma mater with his twin brother Cody. “It sucks going out this way in the quarters, but I think they changed the community of water polo in Costa Mesa. They were loyal to CMAC and loyal to Costa Mesa High School, when it’s easy to jump ship nowadays with the 30-day [sit-out period for transfers].

“For them to stay loyal and to challenge other, bigger teams … that’s an amazing feat. These kids stayed loyal, stayed humble and said, ‘Costa Mesa water polo will be great again.’ I think they made it great again.”

Fisher scored three goals, while Grant Goston and Fisher’s younger brother Gavin had one each, as the Mustangs stormed to a 5-2 lead after a quarter against the Dons. But Costa Mesa would go scoreless in the second quarter and nearly all of the third as well.

Zachary’s goal off a post-up brought the hosts within 8-7 with two minutes to play in the match, but Santa Barbara’s Jordan Hayes answered by scoring with 59 seconds left. Fisher’s fifth and final score still left the Mustangs one goal short.

Dylan Fogg and Ryan Drake led Santa Barbara with two goals each.

Junior goalkeeper Joey Palmblade made 13 saves and added three steals for the Mustangs.

“I think he’s easily one of the best goalies for his grade in the nation,” said Caedmon Fisher, adding that this year’s Mustangs were the most cohesive in his time in the program. “I’ve never played with a team that works better [together] and adjusts. [My teammates] did a great job of that this season, and that’s all I could ask of them.”

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