BURBANK — Apparently, the Pacific League boys’ water polo championship was in the bag.
Or at least so was the dry T-shirt that dripping wet Glendale High boys’ water polo coach Forest Holbrook pulled out of his duffel bag, which proclaimed the Nitros third straight league championship.
Holbrook proudly displayed the garment after his team relied on clutch scoring and a strong defense late to defeat Crescenta Valley, 15-11, at Thursday afternoon’s Pacific League tournament championship played at Burbank High. The win clinched the title outright for Glendale.
“When I first came to Glendale High School, the plan was to win a Pacific League championship,” Holbrook said. “I was preparing to take three years to get there, not to be winning our third straight title and [24th] straight league game. That’s just enormous and incredible.”
The CIF Southern Section Division V top-ranked Nitros (18-6, 8-0 in league) held a 13-9 lead to start the fourth quarter over Crescenta Valley (15-9, 6-2), which entered the contest sharing the division’s No. 2 ranking with Los Altos.
The Falcons, who were attempting to avenge a 12-11 setback to the Nitros on Oct. 10 at Pasadena City College, immediately attempted to reverse momentum when Nate Fernandez scored a goal off an assist from Trevor Goddard 27 seconds into the fourth quarter to pull Crescenta Valley within three goals.
While the Falcons forced a turnover on the Nitros’ next possession, they were unable to trim their deficit when a shot by Goddard just pinged off the post.
That near-miss turned into a make the other way when Nitros goalie Daniel Sarkissian (eight saves) started a counter-attack with an outlet pass that found teammate Jayson Wilia, who led a two-on-break with Levon Gevorkyan.
Eventually, Gevorkyan netted a shot past the leaping attempt of Falcons keeper George Vine VI (five saves) for a score with 5:22 remaining that put Glendale up, 14-10.
Unbeknownst to the Falcons was that their final goal came a little more than two minutes later when senior Ryan Moguel (game-high five goals) netted a rebound shot off a Sarkissian block of Griffin Harting (three goals and two assists).
The score again closed the gap to three at 14-11 with 3:17 left.
The Nitros answered with a score from Manuk Piloyan created off a brilliant steal and pass from Arman Momdzhyan with 2:26 remaining to seal the victory.
“That was the tough part today. It seemed like every time we scored, they scored,” Falcons Coach Jan Sakonju said. “We know about Arman, Manuk and Artak [Arzumanyan], but today they had No. 12 step up and that killed us.”
That player was Harut Bandikyan, who tied with Piloyan and Momdzhyan with four goals apiece.
Glendale took over a back-and-forth contest by winning the third quarter, 6-3, in taking a 13-9 advantage.
Crescenta Valley knotted the score at 7 off a long-range goal from Harting with 4:21 remaining in the third.
From that point on, the Nitros scored four straight goals, two from Bandikyan, in taking an 11-7 advantage with 1:56 left in the third.
“You can’t say that it’s one player on this team. This was a total team effort,” said Momdzhyan, who also had four steals. “We won this as a team.”
Glendale appeared to ready to knock out Crescenta Valley early when a score from Momdzhyan at the 4:07 point in the second quarter gave the Nitros a 5-2 advantage.
Having struggled up until then, the Falcons made an impressive rally, scoring four of the next five goals and tying the match at 6 on a score from Moguel with an exactly a minute left in the half.
Unfortunately for Crescenta Valley, Piloyan sapped some of the Falcons’ energy when he scored an amazing goal two meters before mid-pool with a second left to give Nitros a 7-6 advantage going into the half.
“Glendale is a team that’s blown out a lot of teams this year. So, to know that we can hang with them means we can hang with anybody,” Moguel said. “They just have so many weapons and they showed that tonight.”