It was something reserved for an overmatched opponent in September, but the Los Osos High School boys water polo team saved it for mid-November.
The Grizzlies reeled off 10 consecutive second-half goals to make a one-goal deficit a distant memory on their way to a 13-5 win over Arroyo Grande on Wednesday in the CIF-SS Division 4 semifinals at Irvine High. The victory landed second-seeded Los Osos (22-8) in its third CIF final in five years, a run the Grizzlies would love to bookend with championships when Saturday’s meeting arrives with No. 1 seed Santa Maria Righetti, an 18-17 overtime winner in its semifinal.
“We’ve been working since 2009 to try and win a championship and to be back in there and have that opportunity, I’m very proud of my athletes,” Los Osos coach Eric Cypher said. “I’d really like to see us come back out on top.”
Senior Nick Bell led the Grizzlies with six goals, including a game-tying goal and the go-ahead goal in the third quarter. The final score makes it hard to believe, but Los Osos actually trailed twice in the third quarter. Bell tied the game the first time and teammate Austin Stewart, who had three goals, began the run of 10 consecutive goals by tying the game a second time with 2:45 remaining in the third quarter. Bell then scored four of the next five goals, including three in a row, to stretch the Grizzlies lead to 9-4 just 3:40 after Los Osos trailed 4-3.
“They were putting us in positions that we didn’t want to be in and we were adjusting by countering to where we wanted to be and that allowed us to do what we do,” Cypher said. “And once we started doing what we do, well, we just started running off goals. Nick Bell is certainly coming into his own as a senior.”
Wednesday marked the smallest margin in a postseason match for Los Osos. The Baseline League champion knocked off Redlands in the first round 24-7 before taking down Ocean League champion Santa Monica 16-5 in the quarterfinals. Arroyo Grande (18-8), the second-place team from the Pac-7 League, ousted Citrus Belt League champion Redlands East Valley with a 10-5 victory in the first round, then edged No. 4 seed Troy 6-5 in the quarterfinals to set up the semifinal with Los Osos.
Top-seeded Righetti defeated Los Osos 10-5 in the teams’ lone meeting this season, but the Grizzlies won their meeting with Cerritos, the team that pushed Righetti to overtime in the semifinals.
After winning the 2008 CIF championship, Los Osos returned to the final and lost in 2009 before a semifinal exit in 2010 and a quarterfinal exit last season.
A finals appearance didn’t appear it would come easily on Wednesday as Arroyo Grande held Los Osos two two goals in a rugged first half that included a total of four goals between the teams. But Arroyo Grande’s defense couldn’t defend a swifter Los Osos counter-attack in the second half, leading to nine goals in a stretch of 5:42 bridging the third and fourth quarters.
Los Osos’ lead swelled to 13-4 before Arroyo Grande scored with 10 seconds left in the game. It was its first goal since 3:13 of the third quarter.