By Brian Reed-Baiotto, correspondent
IRVINE –– Damien High coach Grant Miller knew heading into Saturday’s CIF-Southern Section Division 3 boys water polo championship that his Spartans were the clear underdog against reigning champion Laguna Beach. The Br(eakers (25-6) had handily beaten the Spartans (24-7) earlier in the season and continued their dominance Saturday with a 14-8 victory to successfully defend their title at the William Woollett Aquatics Center. (To continue click thread)
Laguna Beach’s Nolan McConnell looked every bit the CIF-SS Division 3 reigning Player of the Year with a game-best six goals as the powerful lefty scored the first two goals of the game and answered each time Damien crept back into the contest.
Damien trailed 6-2 early, but goals by Austin Miller and Stephen Warnick got the Spartans to within 6-4.
Riley Thomas, Cameron Hauer and McConnell, however, each scored to give the Breakers a comfortable 9-5 lead at halftime.
Laguna Beach put the game away with a 4-1 advantage in the final quarter with two scores from Tommy Renner and one each from Nicky Brunner and McConnell.
“We simply did not execute and not being able to score from the outside plagued us again today as it’s done all season,” a frustrated first-year Damien coach Grant Miller said. “We didn’t play well nor did we stick to our game plan.”
Reuben Saucedo continued to be a huge spark off the bench for Damien with four goals.
The Spartans’ senior leader Austin Miller finished with two goals on Saturday.
Laguna Beach goalie Erik Henrikson had a game-high 12 saves, while Damien’s Kyle Garwick blocked nine shots.
“We have a lot of respect for Damien and knew they’d give us a battle and they did that today,” Laguna Beach coach Ethan Damato said. “We have a great player in Nolan McConnell and he did today what he’s done all season, but I also think we have the best goalie (Erik Henrikson) in the state.”
Connor Farris and Warnick scored once each for Damien.
Riley Thomas had three goals for Laguna Beach and Renner finished with two.
McConnell capped his amazing career with 109 goal this season despite being the focus of every opponent’s defense.
“Nolan is a great player, but he was exactly what we had planned for and couldn’t do anything about it,” Miller said.