UPDATE: The second round of the CIF finals for water polo will be held at Temple City High instead of South Pasadena for today’s game, game is scheduled for 5:00 p.m. today.
A first round win was expected by South Pasadena High in its pursuit of a CIF-Southern Section Division 3 water polo championship, but the road only gets more difficult from here warns the Tigers’ coach.
South Pasadena struggled to get its high-powered offense going early against visiting Newbury Park on Tuesday night, but once it did there was no stopping the Tigers as they rolled to a convincing 11-6 win.
It was close for a while, as South Pasadena held a narrow 2-0 lead after the first quarter on goals by Evan Kowal and Blix Hadsell-Florin. The Tigers extended their lead to 4-0 at the half after Owen Imasaki found the net on a penalty shot with 1:30 left in the second quarter, followed up seconds later on a shot by Anthony Felix.
The Tigers pulled away in the third period, scoring the first three goals, one by Lucas Abrahamian, Imasaki and Eddie Lane-Flannigan before Newbury Park’s Garrison Cook gave the Panthers their first point of the night. Imasaki scored once more before the quarter ended as South Pasadena rolled into the fourth period with a solid 8-1 advantage.
Relentless around the Newbury Park goal, Imasaki scored three more times in the fourth quarter and the Tigers were comfortably in front 11-3 before South Pasadena coach Michael Gonzales pulled his starters, including goalie Liam Marcus, who made seven saves on the night. Of Newbury Parks’ five goals in the final period, three came in the final minute when the game was long decided.
It was another impressive outing for Imasaki, who finished the night with six goals, while Abrahamian, Felix, Lane Flannigan, Handsell-Florin and Kowal all had one each.
“I think we settled into it nicely,” said Gonzales. “We looked really nervous in the first half. We were really indecisive with the ball. But we got over the fact that it was a playoff game and instead began treating it like a traditional water polo game. We just executed better in the second half.”
The decisive win improves the Tigers’ overall record to 18-10, including a perfect 8-0 mark against Rio Hondo League opponents this season.
Expected to win the CIF opener, Gonzales noted, “We walked into it very confidently.”
He knows his club will need that same confidence to get past a tougher second round CIF opponent in Schurr, coming off a first round 16-9 victory over Alta Loma on Tuesday. The two teams square off in a 5 p.m. matchup Thursday night in South Pasadena.
Schurr is also a team Gonzales and his players know well after falling to the Spartans in a game played between the two clubs two weeks ago.
Gonzales and company are looking forward to the rematch pitting the CIF Division 3 eighth and ninth seeds in Schurr and South Pasadena, respectively. The Spartans come into the game with a 24-4 overall record and 4-0 first place finish in the Almont League. The winner moves onto the quarterfinals while the season comes to an end for the loser in the single elimination tournament.
“We laid an egg a couple of weeks ago against them so we’re excited about getting another opportunity,” said Gonzales about the 12-8 loss to the Spartans. “Redemption is always a good thing.”
The Tigers first round victory over Newbury Park is already an improvement over last year when South Pasadena was ousted in the first round of the CIF playoffs, losing to Redondo 9-5. Now the Tigers hope to get past a strong Schurr team and advance to the CIF quarterfinals, the semis, and, ultimately, the title game.
“We’ve been in high pressure situations before, high stakes scenarios,” said Gonzales, believing his team can be in it for the long haul. “I think it’s reminding the kids they’ve been through those things before and they can get themselves through it.”