BURBANK — Perhaps thanks in part to the element of surprise, or maybe just some lingering apprehension on the part of a Hoover High boys' water polo team favored to beat Crescenta Valley for the first time anyone could remember, the Falcons carried an upset bid into the second half when the teams first met in Pacific League play on Oct. 11.
Fast forward to the prelims of the league championship tournament at Burbank High on Tuesday and it was a different story, one of a different Tornadoes team that wouldn't be forced to pull out a second-half comeback this time. In fact, the No. 2-seed Tornadoes never trailed in their 15-11 victory, which sets up a rematch with archrival Glendale, the No. 1 seed, in the title game on Thursday.
"We were a little bit more focused," first-year Hoover Coach Kevin Witt said when comparing Tuesday's win to the Tornadoes' 18-12 comeback win in the previous meeting. "I think this time of year our guys are a little bit more focused on every game.
"I feel like we've had a lot of good practices lately and we did a good job of coming out a little more aggressive. We tried to stick with our physicality a little bit more rather than trying anything new or different."
Hoover (15-5, 6-1 in league), ranked 10th in CIF Southern Section Division 5, predictably relied heavily on the skills of All-Area Player of the Year Hakop Kaplanyan, but not just for goal scoring. The senior utility scored four goals, but also had four assists, eight steals and opened up plenty of opportunities for his teammates by demanding constant attention from multiple Falcons defenders.
Kaplanyan opened the scoring when he recovered a loose ball on the offensive end and punched it in for a 1-0 lead less than a minute and a half into the match. He found Hakop Baghumian (four goals) open on a counter for a 2-0 lead less than a minute later.
Hoover got goals from four different players in the opening period to take a 5-2 lead into the second.
"We're not going to win this game with only two or three people scoring," said Witt, who also got four goals from David Pogosian and two from David Davtyan. "We have to get everybody involved. We played everybody, from freshmen up to seniors, and they all looked good today."
Third-seeded Crescenta Valley got back-to-back goals from Brian Dertli and Antonio Camarillo to pull within 6-4 midway through the second period, but could never get closer than that, as the best the Falcons could do the rest of the way was trade goals with the Tornadoes. Alexander Trimis scored on a pass from Leo Rostamian to get within 7-5 before Kaplanyan came up with a steal that he turned into an assist to Baghumian to close out the half with a three-goal lead.
Kaplanyan was there to thwart every subsequent CV attempt to cut into the lead, from scoring amid three defenders to bolster the lead to 10-6 with 4:09 left in the third, to disrupting a Falcons counter-attack with a steal as the they tried to cut the Tornadoes' 11-8 lead further as the third quarter ended.
"We've been plagued by that all year," said Falcons Coach Jan Sakonju, whose team fell to 9-17 and 4-3 in league and will play Burbank for third place at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday. "In all of our league games, we've traded goals with all the teams. We get to these points in the game where we just trade back and forth and are never able to either hold a lead or make any gains if we're down."
Hoover will now face Glendale, which defeated Burbank, 25-11, for the second time in eight days after losing to the Nitros, 15-7, in the league regular-season finale on Wednesday.
"[This was] Step One," Witt said of making it to the championship match. "[We're] absolutely ready. We have a pretty good game plan going into Thursday, it's just a matter of whether we can pull it off."