Cold start hurts Mesa

LAS FLORES — The temperature dropped steeply as the sun went down Tuesday evening at Tesoro High.

Costa Mesa High boys' water polo coach Justin Taylor tried to keep warm on the pool deck.

Taylor is getting married in less than two weeks. He joked that the cold temperatures were giving him second thoughts about having his wedding at an outdoor venue.

His Mustangs took a bit too long to heat up, too. Their season is over after they lost to host Tesoro, 19-11, in a CIF Southern Section Division III wild-card match.

Mesa battled for much of the game but could not come all the way back after falling behind, 7-1, after the first quarter.

"The first quarter aside, we hung right with them," Taylor said. "That's one of the things about these kids — they have a lot of heart and they have a lot of pride. The first quarter, I think we were a little shellshocked. They came out and hit us hard and fast. At that point, teams have a habit of rolling over, but that's not our kids."

Nobody on Costa Mesa (20-7) had played in a CIF game before. The Mustangs got a bit unlucky in the early going.

Wyatt Ferris' hard shot from the outside on their first possession clanged off the crossbar. On their second possession, the Mustangs got a six-on-five opportunity, but Tesoro sophomore goalie Roger Lorge slid over for a nice save on Quinn Stone's quick shot at two meters.

Tesoro (19-9), the third-place team from the Sea View League, built up its lead behind Dylan Chavez. The junior scored four goals in the first quarter and led all scorers with six for the game.

"It was the first time we'd all played in a CIF game," said Mesa senior James Lewis, who had three goals. "I'd say we were intimidated to come out and play, knowing they were a good team. Once we realized we could actually play with them, we came out and [did better]."

Down, 11-2, at halftime, the Mustangs kept fighting. They pulled within six goals on Nick Lewis' power-play strike early in the fourth quarter, but could not get closer.

Jack Proctor added four goals for Tesoro.

"[Tesoro] countered well," Taylor said. "But their outside shooting was what hurt us the most today."

Senior goalie Mitchell Grandia had eight saves for the Mustangs. That gave him 309 for the season, which is fourth in Mesa single-season history behind Scott Neslage (313), Justin Taylor (311) and Scott Taylor (no relation to Justin – 310).

"The kid's a stud," Justin Taylor said of Grandia. "We wouldn't be in the position that we were in this season, going to the playoffs and winning as many games as we did, if it hadn't been for Mitch. He had himself a great year."

Ferris, who had a team-high four goals Tuesday, finished with 93 for the year. That's 13th on the Mesa single-season list. James Lewis finished with 88 goals, 18th on the all-time list.

Being on the all-time leaderboard means something at Costa Mesa, which won 10 straight league titles and four CIF titles during its "Decade of Dominance" from 1986-1995.

This year's Mustangs also felt like they accomplished something. In their first full year with their 50-meter pool, they made the playoffs for the first time in three years and beat rival Estancia.

Stone, Quan Nguyen and Deighton Tachiki all scored single goals Tuesday for the Mustangs. Tachiki is part of a talented freshman class for Mesa, so the future appears bright as well.

Tesoro moves on to play at No. 2-seeded La Verne Damien in Wednesday's first round.

"It was high-intensity the whole time," Grandia said of the Mustangs' wild-card match. "It's nice to have a game like that, especially at the end of the season. You know you played your heart out. When you look back, you can be like, 'I tried my best.'"

Twitter: @mjszabo

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