SOUTHEAST GLENDALE — The top prize in the Pacific League came down to a battle between the league's two fiercest rivals when the Glendale High and Hoover boys' water polo teams squared off in the championship match of the Pacific League Tournament Thursday night at Burbank High.
Physical and tense throughout, the match started with plenty of offense and finished with a minimum of scoring in the second half, as both teams tried to clamp down. But the Nitros had the upper hand in the form of a four-goal halftime lead that was a big enough cushion to hold off the Tornadoes for a 12-8 win.
For the Nitros, who finished a perfect 8-0 in league, it's the first league title since 2002. Hoover (15-6, 6-2 in league) would have been able to clinch a co-title with a win Thursday, as the championship point system awards one point apiece for regular-season wins and six and five points, respectively, for first and second place in the tournament.
"This feels awesome," said Nitros Coach Forest Holbrook, whose leading scorers were Armand Momdzhyan, Manuk Piloyan and Martin Chatalyan, all with three goals apiece. "This is such a cool thing to share with our team, our families, our school. It's been a long time coming and its really cool that we can share it with everybody."
Glendale (21-7) has scored in the 20s on several occasions this season, including its 25-11 win over Burbank in the semifinals on Tuesday, and Hoover's offense is led by Hakop Kaplanyan, the all-time single-season scoring record-holder for the CIF Southern Section, but neither team could get anything going offensively during one scrappy stretch of the second half.
The two teams traded just one goal apiece in the entire third period, with Chatalyan scoring on a 6-5 advantage off an assist from Shant Tokatyan to put the Nitros back up, 10-6, with 2:01 left in the third.
From there, both teams went 5 minutes 38 seconds without another goal, a span that saw both teams' possessions end in turnovers, missed shots and even losing the ball amid 6-5 advantage situations.
"That was pretty much how the refs were calling it," Hoover Coach Kevin Witt said. "They told us beforehand they were going to let us play and that's always an advantage to the defense because you're allowed to be a lot more physical, and on offense you're going to have to work a lot harder to try to score."
Thomas Bazikyan broke the drought for Hoover at the 2:23 mark of the fourth quarter with a shot from the left side on an assist from David Davtyan and Kaplanyan fired one in 39 seconds later to bring the Tornadoes within two goals at 10-8 with 1:44 left.
It would be the final tally for Kaplanyan, who finished with just two in the game, as did David Pogosian and Vahe Avalyan.
"We knew our team was going to make our goals, but we just had to make sure Hakop didn't get hot," said Tokatyan, who scored twice and came up with three steals.
Glendale, which is ranked fifth in CIF Southern Section Division 5, got a much-needed goal from Momdzhyan with 1:21 left to keep the 10th-ranked Tornadoes at bay and Piloyan capped the scoring with a skip shot into the upper right corner with 31 seconds to play.
"We had a four-goal lead and definitely our emphasis was to focus a lot more on defense and maintain the lead [in the second half]," Holbrook said. "It seemed like we missed a lot of shots in the second half, we had the opportunities, we just weren't capitalizing on them."
Hoover, which lost to Glendale, 15-7, in the regular-season finale on Oct. 26, came out driving more early and created opportunities that led to scores from Kaplanyan, Pogosyan, Hakop Baghumian and Avalyan in the first quarter.
Glendale took a 5-4 lead into the second quarter, where it outscored Hoover, 4-1, to gain some critical separation on goals by Chatalyan (twice), Piloyan and David Papazian, the last coming on an open shot on the wing with Kaplanyan closing with 43 seconds left in the half.
"We switched our game plan up a little bit," Witt said. "We came out with a different game plan, it worked for us for the most part for the whole game except we had simple defensive letdowns. You're not going to win when you give up 12 goals."