Tanner Pulice leads CdM boys’ water polo past Beckman in wild-card round

Corona del Mar High coach Kareem Captan had his boys’ water polo team swim poolside before the start of the fourth quarter of its CIF Southern Section Division 2 wild-card game at Beckman.

The coach, donning dark sunglasses, took a knee to the ground and slammed his clipboard on the side of the pool deck. He had some words for his squad.

“I was telling them to take ownership of the game,” Captan said. “It was just to wake them up a little bit because I felt like they could have been doing a lot better job communicating in the water than they were.”

The No. 4-seeded Sea Kings responded well to their first-year coach’s demands and held off a feisty Beckman effort on Tuesday, taking a 12-9 victory to advance to the first round.

CdM (14-13) will travel to play Moore League champion Long Beach Wilson (12-15) on Wednesday at 5 p.m.

The Sea Kings looked loose on the defensive side of the pool against the upstart Patriots, and CdM star Tanner Pulice thought it had to do with the team’s experience against Beckman the last few years in the Pacific Coast League, before it moved to the Surf League this season. The Sea Kings defeated Beckman 14-5 in the teams’ last league game a year ago.

“I think as a whole we underestimated them,” Pulice said of the third-place Patriots. “We thought we could blow over them … but hats off to them for putting up a fight.”

Beckman (14-12) made it clear early that it wasn’t going to just roll over to the more talented CdM side. The hosts kept pace with the Sea Kings through the first seven minutes, taking a 1-1 tie into the second quarter.

They didn’t back down in any minute of that game … and I think it was the best thing for us. It showed that in the playoffs anything can happen.

— Kareem Captan, Corona del Mar High coach

CdM tried to distance itself in the second quarter, scoring four straight goals, including two strong backhand shots from Matt Ueberroth, to take a 5-1 advantage at the 1:28 mark of the quarter.

But Beckman answered swiftly, cutting the Sea Kings’ lead back down to two with goals from its top players in Trevor Grubb and Richard Yun.

CdM took a 6-3 advantage into halftime as Pulice scored on a penalty shot with 11 seconds to play.

The Sea Kings opened the second half strongly. They pushed their lead to 8-3 on a strike from Shane Papa and a rebound score by Pulice on a shot by Ueberroth that glanced off the post with 1:48 left in the third quarter.

Corona del Mar High's Tanner Pulice scores one of his five goals in the wild-card round of the CIF Southern Section Division 2 playoffs at Beckman on Tuesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The Patriots fought back again, drawing a CdM exclusion and capitalizing on the man advantage as Grubb scored with 1:06 to go in the third quarter. Beckman then turned a prime CdM scoring opportunity into one of its own, taking a Tyler Harvey shot that ricocheted off the bar the other way for a transition goal from Yun.

The Patriots drew a penalty on Pulice with 11 seconds left. Andrew Marsh made the most of the five-meter shot, cutting CdM’s lead to 8-6 to close the third quarter.

Papa and Pulice opened the fourth quarter quickly, scoring back-to-back goals to give the Sea Kings a 10-6 advantage, but Beckman forced CdM to outlast one final push. Goals from Yun and Eli Schwarz cut the Sea Kings’ lead to 10-8 with 4:22 remaining, before the Sea Kings reaped the benefit of an exclusion with Ueberroth’s third goal of the game.

Pulice’s game-high fifth goal at the 2:24 mark all but sealed it for CdM. The Sea Kings were able to control the tempo and run the rest of the clock down.

“It was a good, hard-fought scrappy game,” Captan said. “They didn’t back down in any minute of that game … and I think it was the best thing for us. It showed that in the playoffs anything can happen.”

The Sea Kings have a lot of familiarity with their next opponent in the postseason. The Sea Kings and Bruins played twice this season, with CdM winning both games, 12-7 on Sept. 14 and 10-4 on Sept. 20.

DEVIN UGLAND is a contributor to Times Community News. Follow him on Twitter: @Devin_Ugland