There were plenty of postgame tears and emotions on the Corona del Mar High side of the pool deck as the Sea Kings fell in dramatic fashion to Foothill in the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 2 boys’ water polo playoffs.
The No. 4-seeded Sea Kings erased a four-goal deficit in the fourth quarter to force overtime, but their hopes of returning to the section final ended. The Knights won 12-10 on Wednesday night at Woollett Aquatic Center in Irvine.
It was the third time this season that CdM (16-14) lost a close one to Foothill (20-10). The first two games were one-goal wins for the Knights, and the third helped the Knights advance to play No. 3 Manhattan Beach Mira Costa (21-7) in the section final at Woollett Aquatic Center on Saturday. Mira Costa defeated No. 2 Dana Hills 8-6 in the other semifinal.
The Sea Kings also fell to the Knights last year in the Division 2 final.
“When we go head-to-head, you’re going to get the best game out of both of us,” Sea Kings coach Kareem Captan said. “We both have a long standing and good rivalry, and a lot of respect for each other.”
CdM opened with immense ball pressure, hoping to take Foothill out of its comfort zone. The strategy worked until Foothill’s Jakob Tallman broke a scoreless tie at the 3:44 mark of the first quarter.
The Sea Kings evened the score after a shot by Tanner Pulice was blocked into the arms of Matthew McMillen, who quickly dished it to the middle for Shane Papa and he fired one into the back of the net with 2:09 left in the first.
Foothill took a 2-1 lead into the second quarter after a long outlet pass from goalkeeper William Harrison found Tallman for his second goal of the quarter. Tallman and Jack Matos led Foothill with three goals apiece.
Foothill extended its lead to two goals on multiple occasions in the second quarter, first on a goal from Noah Rowe and then on a score from Matos to take a 4-2 lead with 1:40 left until halftime.
The Sea Kings answered with two goals with under 40 seconds left. Aden Mina scored first, and then a last-second shot from Papa skipped past the keeper as time expired in the second, cutting the Knights lead to 5-4.
CdM broke down in the third quarter, allowing Foothill to score three goals over the last 3:39, helping the Knights to seize a four-goal lead, and tons of momentum heading into the final quarter.
But Foothill played into the hands of the Sea Kings.
“I told them our backs were against the wall,” Captan said of his speech before the fourth quarter. “That was our story the entire season. We always clawed back and the boys have great fortitude in moments of pressure.”
The Sea Kings needed goals and they needed them quickly. Papa started off the comeback with a score at the 6:33 mark, which was followed by one from Matt Ueberroth with 5:34 left.
Pulice, CdM’s leading scorer, scored his first goal of the night with 4:39 left, cutting the Foothill lead to 8-7.
Foothill pushed its lead back to two with a goal from Matos with 3:11 to go, but the Sea Kings continued to force the issue. They drew a penalty on the Knights, which led to a five-meter score from Pulice.
Pulice then tied the game at 9-9 with 46 seconds left on his third goal of the quarter. CdM had a prime opportunity to take the victory in regulation, but a center shot from Papa with two seconds left was stopped by Harrison.
“We like to think we’re one of the most composed teams in the division,” Pulice said. “That is where we thrive and where we play our best water polo. We were down on ourselves after the third, and even though we lost, that comeback was special.”
Tallman scored the only goal of the first overtime period as Foothill carried a 10-9 lead into the second overtime after Pulice couldn’t capitalize on another Foothill penalty.
Matos gave Foothill an 11-9 advantage early in the second overtime on a lob shot that sailed over the outstretched arms of keeper Harrison Smith. CdM cut the deficit to one on a goal from Caden Strauss with 42 seconds left, but Foothill cemented its victory when Adam Florman snuck behind the Sea Kings’ defense for a deciding score with 12 seconds left.
Pulice and Papa each finished with three goals, while Ueberroth added two. Smith finished with 11 saves.