HUNTINGTON BEACH — It wasn't pretty, but Diggy Riley will take it.
The Edison High boys' water polo coach wasn't pleased — and his expression showed it — as he watched his Chargers flutter away several first-half opportunities during Tuesday's CIF Southern Section Division I wild-card game against visiting Buena. Riley, however, was pleased with his team's second-half performance which pushed the Chargers to a 9-6 victory at Golden West College and into a first-round match against top-seeded Mater Dei Wednesday.
Edison outscored Buena, 6-3, in the second half to record its first postseason victory since 2002.
The Chargers also were making their first playoff appearance in two years and hosting their first game since 2002.
Both the Chargers and Bulldogs were at-large entries into the Division I playoffs.
"An ugly CIF win is still a CIF win," Riley said. "We missed a lot of opportunities in that first half which was frustrating. We could have had a 5-0 lead in the first quarter but didn't convert on several occasions.
"Still we did a real nice job defensively in the second half. We gave up a couple of weird goals and offensively, we opened things up after we had been clogged up a bit. A big key in the second half was the kick-outs we had."
Buena rallied from a 2-1 first-quarter deficit to go up, 3-2, in the second quarter before Edison's Kyle Spreeman scored to tie the score at 3-3 at the half. The score remained tied after both teams were refuted offensively through the first 4:34 of the third quarter. Edison's Brent Bazzell broke the tie for good when he skipped a shot into goal with Edison holding a six-on-five advantage.
The Chargers defense came up big moments later during a Bulldogs' six-on-five when defensive pressure on Buena led to a takeaway by Tony Morelli and steal by Bazzell. At the other end of the pool, Bazzell scored again to put the Chargers on top, 6-3.
In the fourth quarter, a great save by Edison goalie John Mroch led to a score by Morelli that gave the Chargers a 7-4 advantage. After the Bulldogs pulled to within 7-5 with 4:41 remaining and in position to score again, Edison attacker Wil Menke forced a turnover in front of the Edison goal that was grabbed by attacker Justin Harrison. The Chargers, again in a six-on-five advantage moments later, upped their lead to 8-5 on a goal by Bazzell.
Edison took advantage of one more six-on-five situation with 2:39 left to put the game away. A steal by Morelli set up a pass from Menke to Harrison, who scored to make it 9-5.
Mroch had a tremendous performance in goal for Edison. He had three saves in each of the third and fourth quarters and finished with 12 saves.
Buena goalie Jake Connelly also had a strong showing, recording seven saves.
"He's phenomenal," Riley said of Mroch. "He's the reason we're sitting where we are right now."
Bazzell led the Chargers with four goals Spreeman scored twice and Harrison, Menke and Morelli each scored once. Greg Carter had two assists.
Michael Raftery tied Bazzell for game-high scoring honors with four goals for the Bulldogs.
In a Sunset League finale Nov. 3, Edison scored a 5-3 victory over rival Fountain Valley at Newport Harbor High. Carter, Bazzell, Spreeman, and Harrison and Troy Oates, both freshmen, all scored. Mroch registered 10 saves.
The win qualified Edison for CIF.
"We set a team goal at the beginning of the season to qualify for CIF in Division I, which we knew was going to be a major challenge and required us to play as a team and work harder than ever before," said Riley, who improved to 8-1 against Fountain Valley as head coach. "The Sunset League has three of the top teams in the county in Newport Harbor, Los Alamitos and Huntington Beach, so the theme of the season was that we needed to have a .500 win-loss record to qualify and make sure we finished at least fourth in league.
"Our game against Fountain Valley was as emotional and intense as it gets. I told the boys it was our CIF game because with a win, they would advance on, and a loss would end their season. We coined a phrase all week, 'Win We're In Wednesday." The stands were packed with so many Edison supporters, from our administration, to ex-players, family, friends, students. The crowd was loud and obnoxious and the boys really fed off the atmosphere."
In addition to Edison playing at Mater Dei, Huntington Beach (Sunset No. 3) plays at Santa Barbara (Channel League No. 2) in another first-round Division I game Wednesday. Golden West League runner-up Ocean View opens Division VII play Thursday at Mt. Baldy League champion Don Lugo.