Glendale High boys’ water polo Coach Forest Holbrook said his team had worked in practice on what it would do in a make-or-break situation with its top scorer out of the game at the end of Saturday’s CIF Southern Section Division V championship match.
Having an emergency plan in mind is one thing, but executing it to perfection in the final minutes of the biggest match in program history is quite another.
On Saturday, it was the difference between once again coming close and finally closing out on the ultimate prize.
Manuk Piloyan’s two fourth-quarter goals were the deciding factor in the Nitros holding off Los Altos, 13-11, before a capacity crowd at William Woollett Jr. Aquatic Center in Irvine for the first CIF title in boys’ water polo in school history and the school’s first CIF crown in any sport since the boys’ volleyball team won it all in 1989.
It was the second straight appearance in the CIF finals for Glendale, which lost to Pasadena Poly in 2012.
“I had to step up and score,” said Piloyan (four goals), who elevated over the Conquerors defense for a one-bounce skip shot from seven meters with 1:04 left in the match to give Glendale its final two-goal margin. “It feels really good. We finally won. Coming back from last year when we lost, it pumped me up really good scoring that goal.”
Arman Momdzhyan, who led all scorers with six goals, watched from the bench for the final few tense possessions after picking up his third exclusion of the match with 2:22 left.
For all intents and purposes, Momdzhyan had been taken out of the match as a scorer well before that when Los Altos recommitted its defensive focus to stopping the senior two-meter at all costs following his three-goal spurt midway through the third period.
“It was very tough, it was stressful, like you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Momdzhyan said of being banished to the pool deck with his team clinging to a 12-11 lead. “Anything can happen in the last minutes of the game and I’ve got to give credit to Los Altos. They played a great game, but our team just stuck through it.”
Glendale took a 10-8 lead on Momdzhyan’s final goal of the afternoon, a sweep shot from the left side that skimmed the surface with several quick bounces with 3:30 left in the third quarter.
Los Altos answered at the 2:07 mark with a man-advantage goal by Edgar Reyes and tied the match at 10 at the 1:28 mark when Matthew Perez got a steal and pushed the ball up to Chris Basulto on the counter-attack.
The Conquerors had several chances to take their first lead since the first period in the final minute of the third, but Glendale goalkeeper Daniel Sarkisian came up with three huge plays.
First he made a save on Perez’ attempt on a counter with numbers after a Glendale offensive foul with 1:00 left, then the senior disrupted another Los Altos counter with a steal.
His best play of the sequence, however, was his save of George Millard’s in-close attempt on a man-advantage with 10 seconds left.
“I tried to step up today,” said Sarkisian, who finished with 12 saves. “We’ve been working on it all year and today was the day to do that. Last year we lost, so we wanted to build on our mistakes and win this year and end [it for the seniors] on a good note.”
Jayson Wilia ended the Nitros’ 4 minute 27 second scoring drought with an open shot near the goal with 6:03 left in the fourth set up by Momdzhyan’s wise decision not to try to shoot through a double team on the perimeter, but rather pass over the defense for an inside opportunity.
Piloyan hit on another straight shot from eight meters at the 4:40 mark to give the Nitros a 12-10 advantage and both teams struggled to make good on their ensuing possessions until Basulto scored easily on the man-advantage that arose from Momdzhyan’s final exclusion with 2:22 left to cut the lead to 12-11.
In the third meeting of the year between the two squads, with Glendale winning both previous matchups by one and two goals, respectively, the action was competitive from the get-go. Neither team ever trailed by more than two goals.
Basulto and Perez each scored three goals to lead the Conquerors, who got 11 saves from David Herrera.
“This was by far the toughest [of the three],” Holbrook said. “Los Altos is a fantastic team and this was a really close game that could have gone either way. I’m really proud of my boys for pulling it off there at the end. It was a great team effort on out part.”
Momdzhyan and Piloyan both scored twice in the opening period, which ended with Glendale clinging to a 5-3 lead.
Momdzhyan made sure the Nitros kept a two-goal lead going into halftime with a backhand sweep at the 2:50 mark of the second period.
“It’s amazing; really indescribable,” Momdzhyan said. “We worked to together as a team and we feel like we deserved it. We came to finish where we left off last year.”