Nitros lock down rival

PASADENA — Always a big draw under any circumstances, the annual Pacific League boys' water polo clash between Glendale High and Hoover had some extra intrigue to it when the two teams met with first place in the Pacific League and the No. 1 seed in the upcoming league tournament on the line Wednesday.

Both halves of the Pasadena City College pool's stadium seating were equally filled with the two teams' avid faithful, but it was the Nitros roaring loudest, both in the pool and in the stands, with a 15-7 victory.

"It was a tough game, our boys played really well," Glendale Coach Forest Holbrook said. "We stuck to our game plan."

The central element of the Nitros' game plan was to limit the opportunities of Hoover's star player, two-time reigning All-Area Player of the Year Hakop Kaplanyan, and Glendale effectively accomplished that in holding the senior utility to three goals and preventing him from ever taking over the match.

"Basically, [we wanted] to just stop Hakop, run our normal offense, get the ball into set and it ended up being a good game," said Glendale's David Papazian, who scored a match-high six goals. "We were right on top of it."

Papazian paced the Nitros (19-7, 6-0 in league) with three first-quarter goals, including the match's opening tally with 3:09 left, followed by a sinking shot that rattled into the lower left corner of the cage for a 2-0 lead with 2:21 to play in the period.

Hoover got on the board with a shot by Ryan Moguel that was deflected, but floated into the goal to cut the lead to 2-1, but it was as close as the Tornadoes (14-5, 5-1) would get the rest of the way.

Papazian and Shant Tokatyan both scored for Glendale inside the final minute of the first quarter and the Nitros extended their run with two more unanswered goals from Papazian and Manuk Piloyan over the first two 1:25 of the second quarter to take a 6-1 lead. Meanwhile, while being constantly double-teamed away from the ball, Kaplanyan was a non-factor in the first half, going without a shot attempt between long-range desperation heaves with the clock running down at the end of the first and second quarters.

"Hakop is the best player in our area and you really have to force the rest of the team to beat you," said Holbrook, whose squad is ranked fifth in the most recent CIF Southern Section Division V poll, four spots above Hoover. "Our goal is to keep Hakop to eight goals, he got three, so we're happy with how we did as far as stopping Hakop."

Hoover got a goal from David Davtyan in the second quarter to go into halftime trailing, 7-2, but, by and large, couldn't find a way to keep Glendale's defense honest. The trend continued in the third quarter, where Hoover made a move to get back within three goals twice, including Kaplanyan's first to make it 7-4 at the 5:26 mark, but still trailed by five at quarter's end despite outshooting the Nitros, 11-4, from the field in the period.

"We had some specific matchups we were working on," Hoover Coach Kevin Witt said. "We knew they were going to double Hakop and were going to come off of other players and everyone just didn't look like they were on the same page, they didn't look like they were ready to play.

"I credit [the Nitros'] game plan, they put us into bad situations and it didn't look like we knew how to get our way out of it. They did a good job of forcing bad angle shots and made a lot of our more timid players look even more timid."

Kaplanyan muscled his way to two straight goals in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 11-7 with 2:45 left, but Glendale closed out the match with four unanswered goals, including two by Martin Chatalyan, who finished the match with three.

"It feels good [to enter as the No. 1 seed]," Papazian said. "We're hoping to take it. There's a lot of pressure, there's a lot of teams that want it this year, but we have a great team, so there's a good chance we're going to take it this year."

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