In the first half on Saturday, the Corona del Mar High boys' water polo team did not give an inch.
The underdog Sea Kings were playing inspired defense in their home pool, killing off five-on-six after five-on-six. They also were stepping up offensively, surprising Mater Dei senior goalkeeper McQuin Baron — who Coach Chris Segesman calls the best high school goalie in the nation — with creative plays and sweep shots.
CdM was simply competing. These were two heavyweights going blow for blow.
It wasn't surprising to CdM Coach Barry O'Dea. Coming into the game, he knew what it took to beat the Monarchs, who had a CIF record 105-game winning steak snapped last weekend.
"You've got to play four perfect quarters," O'Dea said, after watching his team play two.
Mater Dei dominated the second half, holding CdM scoreless. The Monarchs were on their way to ending the Sea Kings' season, claiming a 10-4 victory in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 quarterfinal game.
Top-seeded Mater Dei (28-1), which features eight Newport Beach residents, stayed alive in its quest for its fourth straight Division 1 title. The Monarchs will play Loyola, an 8-7 overtime winner over No. 4 Long Beach Wilson, in the semifinals at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Irvine's Woollett Aquatics Center.
It was not easy. It seems funny to say, but the Sea Kings (17-12) played perhaps their best game of the season in Saturday's loss. Consider that just two weeks ago, they fell behind early and were blitzed by Mater Dei, 15-3, in a nonleague game.
"The boys played awesome and they followed the game plan," O'Dea said. "We said all week that we had to play as close to a perfect game as we could, and for this year, that was the best game we've put together. I'm proud of them. They're super-stoked about how well they played. They're also bummed that they lost, but right there, I think we showed that we're better than the No. 8 seed going into the playoffs. It's unfortunate that we lost that [first] Northwood game early. It put us in a bad spot, but it is what it is. You've got to play them at some point, and I thought we gave them a hell of a game today."
In the earlier nonleague game, the Monarchs thrived on the counterattack, with Baron making long passes that Mater Dei's players put away. In Saturday's game, the Monarchs scored just once on the counterattack.
The score was tied 1-1 after the first quarter, with junior Jack Trush scoring the goal for the Sea Kings. Then senior Matt Sherburne gave CdM the lead, with a quick sweep shot on Trush's pass. Mater Dei junior Nick Silvers scored on the six-on-five, tying the score again. Silvers would score another power-play goal, then an even-strength goal from five meters with 3:24 left in the half. Mater Dei had a 4-2 lead, and looked like it could pull away.
Silvers, a Newport Beach resident, finished with a game-high five goals.
"He's a gamer," Segesman said. "He steps up in big moments, and it's a sign of his maturity. He's ready to fill positions next year, when we lose [seniors] James [Walters] and Kent [Inoue] and those guys. It's nice to see."
But CdM responded. Trush again passed to Sherburne, who connected on another "dry" sweep shot with 1:43 left. Then, on CdM's next possession, Trush found junior Garrett Spruth, who put the shot away at the left post to knot the score at 4-4 at halftime.
"We came into the game like we had nothing to lose," Trush said. "We knew what we were doing on offense ... Everyone just came together and we played our best in the first half."
Trush was also involved on a controversial play early in the third quarter, when he appeared to get inside water on a pair of defenders in front of the goal. O'Dea called for a five-meter, but it was instead called a simple exclusion, and CdM was turned away.
Mater Dei would respond with three more goals — two by Silvers on six-on-five and one from University High transfer Jake Sanders — to take a 7-4 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Monarchs converted five of 11 power-play chances in the game, while CdM was scoreless in five chances. The difference in those numbers drew O'Dea's ire after the game.
"Slow them down and get them in the half-court," O'Dea said of CdM's game plan, "which is what we did. We weren't planning on going down [11-5] on ejections. That was a big difference in the game, when you're [six] less ejections than the other team.
"[Trush's exclusion] should have been a five-meter. [Trush had] front water, and the guy's on his back. [The referee] made him work like six seconds to get an ejection, and they make one simple move and they're getting ejection calls. Listen, I get that we're playing Mater Dei, and I get that they're the No. 1 team, but make the call. We get a goal there, and we get momentum, and that's a big deal."
Sanders added two more goals, and Jeff O'Brien, another Newport Beach resident, scored the game's final goal for Mater Dei. The Monarchs were on their way to ending CdM's season for the second straight year, after beating the Sea Kings, 18-9, in a Division 1 semifinal last year.
The USC-bound Walters, another Newport Beach resident and the team captain, did not score but dished out three assists and added five steals. Spencer Carroll, Neil LeVecke, Peter Seidner, Connor Talleur and Luke Wyatt are the other Newport residents who play for Mater Dei.
Baron, who like Walters has committed to USC, made eight saves, six of those in the second half.
Ryan Hamm made eight saves for CdM, and Ashton Jajonie and Jay Neiger added assists.
"CdM played great," Segesman said. "They came with a lot of intensity and put a lot of pressure on us. They had a lot of movement in the front court and posted up some players that weren't used to playing the defender position. I thought they played really well, and McQuin had two sweep shots that caught him by surprise. I don't think we've seen a sweep shot all year until that point.
"He got caught by surprise, but [my] guys locked it down in the third quarter and played really good water polo the last half of that game. It was nice to see, but we've got to be better out of the gates."
Mater Dei has played semifinal opponent Loyola once before this season. The Monarchs beat the Cubs, 11-6, in a nonleague game on Oct. 29.