Photo by Thomas Forman
Despite a strong effort in the first period, boys’ water polo fell to Redondo Union 8-6 in Division IV CIF semifinals on Wednesday, November 8. Defined by its physicality and invigorating energy, the final game of the season marks the end of a tremendous run for the Tigers, as it was their best finish in recent history. The team should only grow from here on out, as the squad’s talented youth portends strong chances of future Rio Hondo League championships and CIF runs.
The atmosphere at Pasadena City College was electric before the game even started, as the large South Pas crowd demonstrated its passion. The Tigers fed on this enthusiasm, displaying dominance early on. Freshman phenom Eddie Lane-Flanigan fed a pass to junior Philip Lee, who created separation before rifling a rocket into the bottom left corner to give South Pas a 1-0 lead. Following a Redondo Union ejection, freshman Dominic Kline used the resulting man advantage as he floated a pass across the front of the Seahawks goal to Lee, who rocketed a strike into the top right corner. The Tigers prevented Redondo Union from establishing an offensive rhythm in the first period, forcing turnovers and lackluster shots as time expired. The Seahawks’ most promising opportunity came in the dying seconds of the first period when they fired a shot over the net from roughly five meters out. To the contrary, South Pas’ ability to create chances—and goals—on the inside augured offensive success, as the Tigers have been slow to develop chances in that area. The first quarter ended with a score of 2-0, which wouldn’t be enough of a lead to withstand the Redondo Union onslaught.
“We could have capitalized on earlier scoring opportunities in the first quarter to go up big,” commented Coach Michael Gonzalez.
The first period was no indication of what was to come in the second. Redondo Union grabbed control of the battle of the front of the net, firing a skip shot to the top left corner before lasering a strike to the bottom right corner that ignited the Seahawks’ crowd and tied the game. Both defenses continued to display their prowess, as defenders on both squads successfully blocked open angles and forced contested shots and passes. As was the case throughout the season for South Pas, it was not the Tigers’ set defense that let them down but their transition one. Amidst a Seahawks‘ transition attack, freshman goalie Liam Markus played aggressively in an attempt to cut down any shooting angle. Despite this effort, Redondo Union showcased its precision as it lofted a brilliant lob up and over Markus and into the bottom left corner. Unfazed, Markus stuck to his game, one that shut down high-powered opponents earlier in the season. Markus left his position to intercept a pass, and looked to have been successful in his attempt, but the Seahawks wrested the ball away and slipped it into the South Pas net for a 4-2 lead.
Momentum swayed in the Tigers’ favor early in the second half, as Philip Lee had an opportunity in close but couldn’t get a solid shot off and Markus made several significant blocks. Kline’s performance would be the only one to have an effect on the scoreboard, however, as he fired a bullet to the top right corner to bring the deficit to a single goal. Unfortunately, this goal only revved up the Seahawks’ powerful, large offense.
Gonzalez inputted, “Size definitely took a toll as the game went on. Their length was a factor as well. We started to get worn down at center defense. ”
Redondo Union received a cross-pool transition pass and lofted a perfect lob that landed in the bottom right corner. Moments later, the Seahawks continued to use their size advantage, taking a feed inside and scoring on a skip shot to the top left corner. With 1:12 remaining in the third quarter, the Tigers desperately needed to reduce the 6-3 gap. Lane-Flanigan nearly completed that objective as his backhanded rocket rang off the left post from five meters out. The third period ended with the 6-3 score.
For the first time in the game, South Pas won the initial sprint to the ball, which proved to be significant. Immediately after a foul, Kline launched a skip shot that deflected off the post and landed in the Redondo Union net. With 5:42 remaining, the Tigers pounced on the Seahawks, as Philip Lee rocketed a strike off the top bar and into the goal to bring the tally to 6-5. Unfortunately, the fervent South Pas crowd was quieted as the Seahawks snatched a ball in close and fired past Markus, who had continued his aggressive play. The Tigers responded quickly, as Kline rifled a strike over the right shoulder of the Redondo Union goalie with roughly three minutes left. The Seahawks countered with a strike that ricocheted off the left post, stunning the South Pas audience. The game finalized with an 8-6 tally.
“I think the team did really well. We struggled for a little during the second [period] and that ultimately changed the game’s momentum indefinitely,” said senior captain Jasper Lee. “Nevertheless, I’m still super proud of what we were able to accomplish this year.”
There is absolutely no reason for disappointment with the loss: the Tigers battled fiercely against an aggressive, large-bodied Seahawks squad that possessed an unmatched level of physicality and technicality. In fact, South Pas and Redondo Union play a very similar game; both utilize suffocating defense that can switch between man-press and zone coverage, and have skilled outside attackers to complement powerful center offenders. Unfortunately, Redondo Union capitalized on its size advantage and used its athleticism to jump on loose balls, converting South Pas turnovers into goals.
Although Gonzalez admitted the squad “struggled to get out in transition” against Redondo Union, which resulted in a lack of scoring opportunities, he acknowledged the squad’s greatness over the course of the season.
Gonzalez stated, “To see this growth over the course of the season is absolutely amazing. These boys have grown up so much. They’ve learned to care for each other and be accountable for one another. They’ve bought in and created a culture that will be a foundation for years to come.”