There aren’t enough heartbreak songs in the world to describe just how hard it was on the La Cañada boys’ water polo team to lose to JSerra in the CIF quarterfinals as they did in the twilight of Saturday evening.
With five seconds left on the clock in the second half of overtime, JSerra stole the ball and scored to tie the game, 11-11, and force a sudden death overtime. The Lions scored immediately on their first possession in sudden death.
“It’s one of those things where the ball could’ve rolled to the left or the right,” Spartans’ Head Coach German Lopez said. “It just rolled in their favor.”
After the final goal was scored, senior goalkeeper Taylor Roszkos waded in the goal, holding himself up on the net with his head down briefly.
“I don’t know how to describe it,” Roszkos said, “I just wanted to win so bad.”
The players commiserated with each other and Lopez held the final post-game player meeting.
With the loss came the three or four realizations each player had: if I had only done this, we could have won. If I had only blocked that one shot; if I had only dumped the ball; if I had only passed there instead of taken the shot.
The truth, though, is that it just wasn’t La Cañada’s night.
The Spartans (20-10) had six shots that beat the goaltender, but bounced off the crossbar or post — a strong indicator of bad luck. The Lions had one.
And that, of all things, proved the difference.
Between the nonchalant beginning and those absurd final 30 seconds was perhaps one of the greatest CIF water polo games ever played. Both teams played phenomenally.
Both teams played back and forth, neither team leading by more than a goal, until the final four minutes of the fourth quarter, when JSerra scored a goal to take a 7-5 lead.
The Spartans looked like they were in trouble and time wasn’t helping them. With 1:21 left, La Cañada hadn’t done anything and JSerra had possession.
A huge steal by Josh Renfro got the Spartans the ball back and a goal by Spencer Borisoff with 53 seconds left gave the Spartans a window.
JSerra got a solid shot off, but it hit the woodwork; the Lions’ only shot to hit the post.
After calling a time out, the crowd rose to its feet and the Spartans got into Lions’ territory.
Frank Hwang put in a shot with 11 seconds left to tie the game, 7-7. The crowd went wild and the Spartans sensed an opportunity. They had battled an entire game and had a few great opportunities squashed, but had tied up the game with zero seconds on the clock.
Into the first half of overtime, the teams were playing much of the same, each score being retaliated upon.
The game was knotted up at 9s late into the second half of overtime when Hwang took a shot from close range that ricocheted off the cross bar and landed to the right of the goalkeeper, but the goalkeeper couldn’t seem to find it and Renfro swam it in for a score with only 1:40 left on the clock.
The Spartans had taken a lead late for the first time in the game.
With only five seconds left on the clock, the Spartans had possession and it looked like they were going to take it all, but the Lions managed to steal the ball and whip a shot past Roszkos with literally zero seconds left, tying the game 10-10.
Thirty-three seconds into the sudden death, Chris Meinhold, the kid who had been there for JSerra all game, scored the game-winner.
Borisoff led the team with five kills. Hwang and Renfro had two each while Tim Perry had one.
Renfro also had five steals and Paul Miernicki and Perry had two.
Roszkos ended the game with 12 blocks, including a couple dazzlers that most goalies wouldn’t have touched.
“I’m not pleased with how it ended,” Coach Lopez said, “... but I think these kids played well throughout the season. Hopefully [they] learned something and this helps them at the next level.”
“We fought hard and had one little mistake,” Perry said. “But it didn’t diminish our play. It was one of the closest and best games I’ve ever played in.”
Borisoff, Roszkos, Hwang, Renfro, Miernicki, Perry, Cameron Chaves, Conner Rothe and Clay Therrien are all graduating this spring.