BOYS WATER POLO: Spartans grab CIF gold

La Canada defeated Montebello to win CIF-Southern Section Division III championship.

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La Canada celebrates during its 18-7 win over Ayala in the CIF-SS Division III semifinals. The Spartans defeated arch-rival Montebello 11-8 in the title match. (Pasadena Star-News Staff Photo Keith Birmingham)

By Andrew J. Campa, Staff Writer

IRVINE – This time, it was all business for the La Canada High School boys water polo team at Saturday afternoon’s CIF-Southern Section Division III Championships at the William Wollett Jr. Aquatic Center in Irvine.
The Spartans (23-8), the No. 1 seed in Division III, wasted little time in jumping to a five-goal lead over divisional rival Montebello and eventually avenged last year’s title-game loss to the Oilers by holding on for an 11-8 victory.
The victory clinched La Canada’s second title in three seasons. Both victories have come at the expense of Montebello (21-6-1), as both teams have met in three consecutive championship games.
Yet, when given the opportunity to comment about the fierce rivalry and importance of the victory, La Canada coach Larry Naeve played down the significance of beating Montebello, other than it won a title.
“(This) was not a revenge game; it’s a game against two good teams,” said Naeve, who improved to 5-2 in title games. “We play these guys all the time.”
After Montebello, the divisional No. 2 seed, pulled to within 3-2, thanks to a three-meter goal from sophomore driver Erick Gonzalez, the Spartans defense clamped down.
La Canada held Montebello, who averaged 13 goals in three previous postseason contests, scoreless over 11 minutes.
By the time the Oilers got on the scoreboard with another Gonzalez goal off a Tim Urrea assist at the 6:21 mark of the third period, they were trailing 7-3.
“We’re definitely not used to going down by a large margin,” Montebello coach Ken Clements said. “Not that we couldn’t have come back and haven’t come back against good teams earlier in the year.
“But when you’re playing La Canada, you have to play great, and we didn’t.”
During the 11-minute scoreless streak, the Spartans countered with goals from Spencer Borisoff (two), Max Scott, Frank Hwang and Nathaniel Vail. Hurting the Oilers defensively was the loss two-meter defender Christian Cordova, who left with 4:07 in the first quarter because of a bloody nose. Cordova did return in the second half.
“We played 100 percent better as a team this time,” Vail said. “Everyone stepped up and played great defense and great offense.”
It was Vail who stymied an Oilers charge to get back in the game.
After Gonzalez’s goal pulled Montebello to within 7-3, the Oilers punched in two more goals, the latter from Urrea at the 2:22 mark in the third. The score brought the host team to within 7-5.
But that’s when Vail answered with a score at the 2:03 mark. After teammate Davis Hansen knocked in a two-meter shot with 1:15 left, Vail added a dagger with 28 seconds left, a goal off an assist from Scott, to leave the score at 10-5 entering the fourth.
Montebello did make a final valiant push and rallied to within 10-7 on a Gonzalez goal, but the Oilers never did drew closer than three goals in the fourth quarter.
“We had a good year; it was just a tough game,” Montebello’s Felix Gonzalez said. “La Ca ada was really aggressive and played great defense.”
Overall, the Spartans were led by the trio of Borisoff, Spencer and Vail, all of whom scored three goals. Not to be forgotten was the stellar goaltending of La Canada’s Taylor Roszkos, who notched nine saves, four of which came in the second-quarter shutout.
“Our defense just adapted to how Montebello was playing,” Roszkos said. “They’re a pretty good team.”
Montebello was led by Erick Gonzalez, who finished with five goals.
Urrea (two goals) and Cordova had goals; sophomore goalie Ely Bonilla finished with a game-high 10 saves.
La Canada moves on to next week’s CIF-SS Masters Tournament that will be held at Long Beach’s Belmont Pool. Montebello can only hope for one of four at-large bids.

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