CdM reaches CIF final

IRVINE — Will Havercroft looked at Evan Ramsey before the fourth quarter began at the Woollett Aquatics Center.

As the two leaned on the pool lane line, it was time to say something, senior to senior.

"This is not going to be our last quarter of high school water polo," Havercroft said. "Let's go!"

Ramsey, who said later that he was "so pumped up," went down and won the sprint, his fourth of the night. Now the season is just as short as that dash to the middle of the pool.

One game is all that remains between the Corona del Mar High boys' water polo team and the CIF Southern Section Division II title after the Sea Kings topped Foothill, 15-13, in a wild semifinal game Wednesday night.

"We put in a good team effort today," CdM Coach Barry O'Dea said. "They followed our game plan we put together for this game … This team, from the beginning of August until now, has just been moving forward every single week."

No. 2-seeded Corona del Mar (22-8) will play top-seeded Murrieta Valley (27-3) in the final at 2:45 p.m. Saturday, back at Irvine High. Murrieta Valley rallied to defeat Long Beach Wilson, 9-8, in the other semifinal.

It's the first time in eight years that the Sea Kings have made the CIF finals, as they try to win their 13th CIF title overall.

"It's awesome," said senior hole/set Chase Watson, who scored a team-high five goals. "It's an awesome group of guys. It's my favorite group of guys I've ever played with. We're just playing together really well, and we're going to win it all."

Ramsey had a season-high four goals and two steals and senior Hayden Leach added three goals and a pair of steals for CdM. Havercroft had two goals and a team-high four steals and senior lefty Chris Robertson also added a goal.

For a while in the semifinals, it looked like one-on-six. The one was Foothill senior driver Paul Reynolds, who scored the first six goals of the game for the Knights (21-9). At halftime, it was Corona del Mar 8, Reynolds 6, and Reynolds finished with a game-high eight goals.

"I respect Paul so much," Ramsey said. "I respect him the most out of any high school player. As a team, they all kind of work around him. And when you have a team like our team where we're all working together … one man can't beat a team. But he almost made me eat those words."

Watson calls Reynolds a good friend, as they know each other from the U.S. junior national team and also play on the same club team, SoCal. But the CdM hole/set did his part to keep the Sea Kings in the game, scoring three successive goals in the second quarter.

The Sea Kings stretched it to an 11-7 advantage midway through the third on Leach's strike, but Foothill rallied. Knights freshman Christopher Brose scored a power-play goal early in the fourth, knotting the score at 11.

"I think we got a little comfortable with where we were," Ramsey said. "That's been a problem for us all season."

But Havercroft's words rang true. Ramsey scored bar-in as the Sea Kings regained the lead, and then Watson scored a highlight goal from set with 4:50 left in the game. Watson took the entry pass and, facing away from the goal, casually flipped the ball back over his head and in.

"I feel comfortable not looking and shooting, and I saw [Foothill senior goalie Jonathan McNab] creeping out," Watson said. "I just did a little wrist flip. "

McNab stopped Leach on a quick counter, but Havercroft followed the play and scored and the Sea Kings had a 14-11 lead with 4:11 to go. Leach scored the team's final goal on a counter, off a precision pass from senior goalie Bruce Bearer.

"We've worked hard to try and build an offense around our centers," said O'Dea, who also plays senior Emery Molnar and junior Ben Zepfel at two meters. "As we've been doing that, our other guys have also gotten better."

Bearer had three saves for the Sea Kings in the shootout. Both CdM and Foothill scored at least three goals in every quarter.

The Sea Kings know Saturday's final will be intense. The Sea Kings played Murrieta Valley extensively over the summer, although they haven't faced the Nighthawks in the high school season.

"I think compared to our first two playoff games, we were a little sloppy," Watson said. "We need to work on it for the next two days, but everyone's playing great … I think we'll come out strong in the finals."

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