WALNUT — When it absolutely needed a goal in crunch time of Wednesday's CIF Southern Section Division V playoff opener against host Walnut, it was no secret who the Hoover High boys' water polo team would turn to.
But even with Hakop Kaplanyan, the two-time reigning All-Area Player of the Year, leading the charge, the Tornadoes' offense was in shambles throughout the fourth quarter and the shot attempt the senior utility was forced into in the final seconds was hardly an easy look either.
Still, Kaplanyan was true when it counted most, threading a buzzer-beater through the outstretched block of two defenders and into the corner of the cage from nearly mid-pool to lift the Tornadoes to a 14-13 win at Mount San Antonio College.
"I still had two shot blockers on me, but I've been working on that shot for a long time," said Kaplanyan, who led Hoover (16-6) with eight goals. "It looks like it came handy."
Kaplanyan's game-winner was the Tornadoes' first goal in nearly seven minutes, as the three-goal lead it carried into the fourth quarter gradually evaporated until Walnut's Mitchell Winters tied the game at 13 with 1:27 to play.
"We became very one-dimensional [in the fourth quarter], we didn't look to our two-meter game at all and we didn't look to attack on the perimeter away from the ball," said Hoover Coach Kevin Witt, who also got three goals from David Pogosyan and two from Hakop Baghumian. "But the guys played and they came through, they really saved us.
"If it's a clutch situation, everyone pretty much knows we're going to [Kaplanyan]. Nine times out of 10, he's going to come through."
Kaplanyan got the ball on the Tornadoes' next possession and drew an ejection on the Mustangs' Jacob Lepp while driving from the left side. His man-advantage skip attempt was too forceful, though, and Walnut (16-12) had the ball back with 37 seconds left before a turnover gave Hoover an opportunity for the final shot of regulation with 10 seconds left.
As Kaplanyan fumbled the ball backward while already far from the cage, it looked like the Tornadoes might not even get a shot off, but Kaplanyan calmly gathered the ball and buried the shot.
"I've always got to have my team's back," Kaplanyan said. "I just had to put that away so we could take this win and not go into OT."
Although the match was tied several times in the first quarter, Hoover never trailed and took its biggest lead of the day, 11-7, on a deep skip shot by Kaplanyan off an assist by David Davtyan with 3:29 left in the third period.
Walnut closed in quickly, however, with three unanswered goals over the next 2:14 to pull within 11-10 before Hoover, which also ended the first half with a three-goal lead, got a couple of fortunate breaks.
After Kaplanyan scored on a nicely drawn-up play out of a timeout, Walnut looked to have a surefire breakaway opportunity, but saw Scott McDill miss a short shot off the crossbar. McDill then committed a flagrant misconduct violation that gave Hoover a penalty shot, which Kaplanyan stuck with two seconds left for a 13-10 lead.
"We had the momentum in the first, second and third [quarters] and coming into the fourth it was difficult because we just started making a lot of mistakes," said Kaplanyan, whose team went scoreless on just two attempts in the fourth quarter prior to his final shot. "They were driving and scoring and it just brought our momentum down."
Hoover will next compete Saturday in a home quarterfinal match against second-seeded Palm Desert at a time and place to be determined.