A young team with plenty of hope and promise at the outset of the season has suddenly catapulted itself to the doorstep of a CIF water polo championship, as South Pasadena High gets ready to face the winner of Tuesday’s quarterfinal match between Santiago and Redondo Union.
The Tigers improved to 20-10 on Saturday with a 9-7 win over Santa Monica in the other quarterfinal matchup at home. To get there, they pounded Martin Luther King 16-8 in first round action early last week and handed Montebello a 10-7 loss on Thursday in round two.
South Pas is now getting set to play in the CIF semifinals, scheduled for Wednesday, with the time and place of their next game yet to be determined.
Tigers’ coach Michael Gonzales said he’s witnessed “a lot of growing up” from his team, especially “over the past three or four weeks” as South Pas puts itself in a position to take on some of the most elite CIF teams in recent days.
Losing the Rio Hondo League title to Temple City wasn’t easy for Gonzales and his 15-man roster. “While it was incredibly disappointing to us (to lose to them), I also think it was a blessing is disguise,” said the Tigers coach, now in his sixth year guiding the program. “The loss has been the catalyst for a lot of growth and development.”
Gonzales has his team playing at its best with CIF title hopes in front of them. With Saturday’s quarterfinal victory over Santa Monica, South Pasadena is now in a position to shoot even higher than a league water polo championship as it prepares for Wednesday’s semifinal showdown.
After an early Santa Monica goal in the fourth period, the game was deadlocked 7-7, but South Pasadena scored twice in the final two minutes on shots by Dominic Kline to pull away and ultimately win it. The final goal came off a feed from Eddie Lane-Flannigan at the 1:20 mark as the home crowd erupted knowing the Tigers had this one well in hand.
There was finally a sense of relief for a team that trailed 4-2 after the first quarter, fought to even it at 5-5 at the half and entered the fourth period with a slight 7-6 advantage.
Kline and Lane-Flannigan led all South Pas scorers with four goals apiece.
If all goes well on Wednesday, the Tigers will take on the winner of the Temple City versus Walnut contest in the other semifinal. South Pas would like nothing better than to avenge two losses to Temple City earlier in the season if it comes down to that for a CIF title.
“We just need to execute a little better in high stakes moments,” said Gonzales when the game was over, but I’m very proud of the kids,” he said, noting that his team made some key defensive adjustments at the half and we started scoring in transition.
With every playoff victory, the Tigers’ coach said the pressure mounts a little more, adding: “In those tight situations you have blot out external factors. At the end of the day it’s just us that we can rely on. And we’re going to have to remember that in the pool.”
“For this young team to go as deep as it has, it’s a testament in how much they’re trusted the process.”
After it was over, Santa Monica coach Mathew Flanders said his club didn’t perform well down the stretch on the defensive end. “We failed to play defense in the last two minutes,” he said. “They’ve got some really good players. If you don’t play defense you’re not going to win. We had to have a good game in the playoffs and we didn’t.”