By Keith Lair, Staff Writer
Bonita High School’s return to the CIF-Southern Section water polo championship was well worth the wait. The Bearcats had not been to a title game in six years. The 13 seniors on the team waited four years. Bonita got defensive in a 5-2 victory over Pasadena Poly on Saturday in the CIF-SS Division 5 title game at Irvine High’s William Woollett Jr. swim complex. (To continue click thread)
“It’s so amazing,” Bonita senior Matt Zachary said of the title. “You can’t explain it. I’m kind of in shock.”
“It’s taken me six years, but I’ll take it. That is for sure,” Bonita coach John Ashby said.
The Bearcats were more than defensive. They were stingy.
“It was probably our strongest performance on defense ever,” goalkeeper Caleb Guarino said. “We played as a team.”
UCLA-bound Henry Pray of Poly did not score a goal, the first time the prolific scorer has not had a goal in a game since his freshman season. The Panthers’ No. 2 scorer, Spencer Rogers, rarely touched the ball and also did not score.
“They just completely shut us down offensively,” said Pray, who admits he was not at full strength because he has been ill. “They knew where our power was and we just weren’t hitting our shots. It was very frustrating. I had one or two guys on me the whole game and it was really hard.”
Zachary and Alec Snow had the task of stopping the Panthers’ scorers. Rogers took one shot. Pray took seven, including 5-meter penalty shot that bounced off the post.
“I guess I’m kind of known for defense,” Zachary said. “I knew I had to shut Pray down and I guess I did it. We just played great defense.”
Bonita last won a CIF-SS title in 2005. The Bearcats have won six CIF-SS crowns. Poly was making its second consecutive appearance in the title game and again came up empty-handed.
Guarino, who had 18 saves, did not give up a goal in the second and third quarters in what turned out to be a span of 23 minutes, 16 seconds.
“Caleb was an absolute wall in the cage,” Ashby said. “This might have been one of the best games he’s ever played and he did it at the right time in the right game.”
But Poly goalkeeper Colin Woolway did not give up a goal in the second half and kept the Bearcats from scoring for 16:59. He had seven saves.
But the Bearcats, the tournament’s top seed, did all their damage in the previous 11 minutes.
“They were doing it with their transition game,” Poly coach Ryan Katsuyama said. “They showed a lot of speed in transition. When they had guys coming down the middle open, it opened the outside for them and we just didn’t have the numbers back. It was tough to come back from that.”
The third-seeded Panthers were unable to score on three-man advantages in the game. The Bearcats failed to score on their lone chance.
In what would become the lowest-scoring game of all the seven championship matches played Saturday, Bonita struck first with an Alex Munson score. Poly’s Robert Lantry tied it 1:12 later.
Keaton Rentia scored the first of a game-high two goals at the first-quarter buzzer, on a lob pass from Kevin Webb. Fastbreaks then led to three lob goals.
With its inside game shut out, Poly could only find the hands of Guarino, the goalposts or the crossbar on its subsequent shots.
“It definitely helped a lot,” Guarino said. “I don’t think we could have been successful without it.”
“They had their shots get in,” Pray said. “It came down to centimeters on the bar.”
Chris McWilliams scored on an outside shot with 2:01 left in the game, the lone goal of the second half, to break the Panthers’ drought.