Hoover good to last shot

BURBANK — Late in Saturday afternoon's CIF Southern Section Division V quarterfinal boys' water polo match between host Hoover High and second-seeded Palm Desert at Burbank High, the Aztecs erupted in celebration while holding a one-goal lead as the final buzzer blared.

About 10 minutes later, the Tornadoes did the same thing.

Palm Desert's exultation turned out to be premature, as a timekeeping error at the scorer's table put time back on the clock and gave Hoover a second chance to tie the game in regulation. Senior utility Hakop Kaplanyan came through with the tying tally to send the match, and his stellar high school career, to overtime. There he scored three more goals, including the game-winner of a 16-15 nailbiter that launched the Tornadoes into Wednesday's semifinals three days after he scored a game-winner in regulation to lift his team through the opening round.

"It was crazy," said Kaplanyan, whose team will next meet Pasadena Poly in a semifinal match at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Mount San Antonio College. "We went to quarterfinals [my sophomore] year and I said to myself I'm not going out in the quarterfinals, I need to get to the semifinals. [Regulation] last minute, overtime last minute, I'm just there for my team every time."

Kaplanyan scored seven of his match-high 10 goals in the fourth quarter and overtime, including a lob halfway through the second half of overtime that pulled Hoover (17-6) back even at 15 after Palm Desert's Brett Shepard had scored a go-ahead goal midway through the first half of the extra session.

The two teams then traded turnovers on four consecutive possessions before Hoover called timeout with the ball with 23 seconds left. Eleven seconds later, Kaplanyan scored on an assist from Hakop Baghumian to put the Tornadoes up, 15-14. Grant Stein answered for the Aztecs with his ninth goal of the contest with six seconds left, giving Hoover one more chance to end it before having to go to sudden-death overtime.

In a play reminiscent of his buzzer-beater to get by Walnut in the first round on Wednesday, Kaplanyan measured his shot and launched a goal from halfway across the pool, this time leaving but a few tenths of a second remaining for the Aztecs.

"As tired as you're going to be, you just have to give it your best because you never know when it's going to be your last game," Kaplanyan said. "I just [stayed] calm. Every time you're more calm, you get more shots off and you play your own game."

Tenths of a second figured prominently in the match even going to overtime. Palm Desert looked to be putting the finishing touches on a win in regulation when Stein scored to give Palm Desert a 13-11 lead with 1:22 left and then stole the ball from the Tornadoes during a key man-advantage play with 1:10 remaining.

The Tornadoes were able to close the gap to 13-12 with a dynamic skipping goal by Kaplanyan with 30.13 seconds left, but Palm Desert came out on its next possession with the clear intent to play keep-away for the duration of the 30-second shot clock. The shot clock and game clock expired simultaneously, sending the Aztecs into celebration and Hoover Coach Kevin Witt racing to the referees to argue that there should still be a fraction of a second left on the game clock.

"The clock shouldn't have run out," Witt said. "It was a table error and table errors are correctable, so we went back, we played it out and we got fortunate."

After some deliberation, the officials ordered a replay of the final 30.13 seconds of regulation, rather than the final .13 of a second.

"I didn't want to believe it," Kaplanyan said. "The reality was it kind of seemed like we lost, but I just couldn't let myself believe that. I wanted to change that.

"I just told my team they gave us another chance and this is where we take it. We were just looking at our opponents' faces and all they seemed was afraid."

Even with the second chance, things still looked bleak for the Tornadoes, who likely wouldn't even have had enough time to get a shot off after Palm Desert (22-9) repeated their 30-second runoff. But then, inexplicably, the Aztecs' Trevor Walker drove and attempted a shot with 12.43 seconds left that was saved by Hoover goalkeeper Sevada Khodaverdi.

Kaplanyan then scored out of a timeout to complete a comeback from being down five goals at halftime.

Trailing, 7-2, at halftime after being shut out over the final 7:52 of the first half, Hoover got back in the game by holding the Aztecs to one goal over the first 4:10 of the third period, by the end of which it still trailed, 11-7.

"Fourth quarter when I saw that score, I was like, 'Wow, is it really going to happen?'" Kaplanyan said. "I just looked at my teammates' faces and said we can't give up, this is too soon."

Hoover's defense clamped down even harder in the fourth, as Palm Desert went scoreless for the first 3:30 of the quarter.

Meanwhile, the Tornadoes rallied back to tie the match at 11 at the 3:58 mark on goals by Kaplanyan, Vahe Avalyan and Kaplanyan again when he beat the Palm Desert goalkeeper to a loose ball on a counter and scored on an empty cage.

"I feel it was our defense that came through toward the end of the game," Witt said. "I know 16-15 isn't exactly a defensive effort, but we let in a lot of easy goals and then we fixed our defense and we started being a lot more physical.

"We limited their opportunities and gave them bad opportunities and I feel that's where our advantage was."

Hoover outshot Palm Desert, 5-1, in the first half of overtime, although the Aztecs' one attempt was the half's only goal, and then limited the Aztecs to just one shot on goal in the second half.

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