League is a breeze

It's getting to that interesting part of the season for the Laguna Beach High boys' water polo team.

Last week, the Breakers had two big nonleague games against Palos Verdes and Newport Harbor. Today, they play another key nonleague game at Damien. But sandwiched between those three matches against highly ranked teams, Laguna played an Orange Coast League match against Costa Mesa.

Wednesday at Mesa's new aquatics center, the Breakers powered past the Mustangs, 22-3. The win upped their league record to 4-0 and secured no less than a tie for the league championship.

Costa Mesa fell to 0-4.

In four league games, Laguna, ranked No. 1 in CIF Division 3, has outscored the opposition, 88-17.

Having played road games at Palos Verdes, ranked third in Division 3, and at Newport Harbor, ranked fourth in Division 1, and with Damien, the No. 4 team in Division 3, on tap today, the Breakers managed to play focused and loose Wednesday.

"It's tough to come out here and win this easily," Laguna Coach Ethan Damato said. "We were coming off some tough matches and have Damien coming up, so to win like this isn't easy.

"I thought the guys did a good job of understanding that's it's important to get better every day, no matter the opponent. Every game counts. In the third and fourth quarter we were still trying to execute our offense, looking for opportunities on drives that we might not get in the more high profile games"

Laguna blitzed Mesa from the start, and everyone got into the act.

Samer Alkateb scored just 18 seconds into the game and 30 seconds later, a steal by Nolan McConnell led to a lob score by Spencer Dodson from the left side. Over the course of the next four minutes, a steal by Nick Brunner led to a skip shot goal by Dodson, Camron Hauer came up with a steal and went down pool to score, Brunner scored on a lob that trickled into the net, Tyler Mancusso had a steal and passed to the right side to McConnell for a goal, and McConnell finished off a 7-0 run.

The Mustangs only were able to score on a penalty shot by James Lewis with 1:47 left in the quarter.

Laguna scored the first five goals of the second quarter and opened up its first double-digit lead (11-1) on a goal by Alkateb at the 4:51 mark of the quarter. The Breakers took a 12-2 lead into the half.

The game became a matter of formality in the second half. Damato continued to shuffle his line-up around in the final 14 minutes, as he had done in the first half, and the Breakers continued working on their passing game instead of going for the easy shot.

Erik Henrickson, who played the first three quarters in the Laguna goal, was replaced in the net by McConnell at the outset of the fourth quarter. Before Henrickson came out, the senior had the highlight of the match when he fired a length-of-the-pool shot straight into the Mesa net.

"I thought we shared the ball really well," Damato said. "The guys were really unselfish and that was great to see."

Laguna began its recent stretch with an Oct. 14 match at Palos Verdes and came away with a 9-8 victory on the strength of a big fourth quarter and Dodson's winning goal with 14 seconds remaining. Last Friday, the Breakers fell at Newport Harbor, 10-1, in a performance Damato dubbed a "terrible showing."

"Palos Verdes was a game we 'starred' on the schedule as maybe this biggest game of the regular season," Damato said. "We fought through a lot of adversity during the game. Palos Verdes did a good job on both ends and really challenged us to step up. In the final moments we got some big goals to seal the victory. Jack Clark, Nicky Brunner, Camron Hauer and Spencer Dodson all scored in the fourth quarter. Spencer's goal with 14 seconds left was the biggest goal of the season for us, so far, this year.

"I think the game in PV took a lot out of our guys both physically and mentally. We didn't come out ready to play against Newport and they jumped all over us. They are very good team that is playing very well right now."

Now, it's on to La Verne today for a the Breakers' next biggie, at Damien. Game time is 4 p.m.

"Damien is playing some really good water polo right now," Damato said. "They are well-coached and disciplined on both ends of the pool. This is another game we have been talking about all season. We know them well and we will be fired up to play them at their pool.

"We're excited for this time of the season. We had a big one at Damien and then it's only three weeks until the playoffs."

Next week, Laguna can put the finishing touches on another undefeated run through league play when it hosts Saddleback at 3:15 p.m. Wednesday.

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