This weekend the Los Alamitos High School boy’s water polo team charged through the S & R Sport Water Polo Tournament at Irvine High School only to be narrowly overtaken by Huntington Beach in the finals.
The Griffins have been playing at a high level this season and an appearance in the final was both a long and difficult road, yet unsurprising to those who have followed the journey. They were coming into the tournament as the No. 2 seed with a solid record thus far in regular season play (5-3).
Los Al started off the tournament on Friday morning against Stevenson School (No. 15 seed), winning with a convincing 23-5 goal tally. Then, later that day, after advancing into the winner’s bracket, the Griffins outsourced No. 10 seed Orange Lutheran High School 13-8 in their second match to further stamp their authority on the tournament.
For the Griffins, the first test of the tournament would come in Saturday’s semi-finals matchup against the sixth-seeded Foothill High School. Senior Nicholas Leung initiated the scoring in the first quarter on Los Alamitos’ first possession, which was answered shortly after by Foothill’s William Griswold. However, the 1-1 scoreline did not last as fellow Los Al seniors, Tomas DeLuca and Nicholas Keane, combined to finish out the quarter with a 4-1 lead. With some rigid defense and some early goals in the 2nd quarter, Foothill was able to close the gap. But an action-packed third quarter saw the Griffins quickly take off yet again. Two more goals from DeLuca — one of which was a perfectly slotted, no-look shot with his back to goal — yet another from Keane, plus a goalless fourth quarter would be enough to surpass Foothill with a final score of 8-6, earning them an appearance in the Final.
The Huntington Beach Oilers came into the tournament as a No. 4 seed. They won their first two games by high margins but narrowly scraped past De La Salle High School in a 16-14 goal thriller in the Semis. For Los Alamitos, it had to of meant a great deal to meet Huntington Beach in the finals, as the Oilers handed them their first loss in league play this season.
The first quarter saw some hard-fought possession battles, sturdy defensive plays, and some last-ditch saves from both teams. An early goal from Los Al Junior Mac Marr and later, Huntington’s Christian Hammonds, kept the score level at 1-1 leading into the second quarter. Through the next two quarters, the Oilers seemed to be running away with the lead. But in the last quarter of the game and last of the tournament, the Griffins outscored Huntington 4-3 with a pair of goals from DeLuca and a pair from Marr. Still, it was not enough to climb back to victory — but not for lack of trying. There were some moments that just did not go the Griffins’ way.
They had shots that smacked the posts, a couple narrowly missed fast breaks, and a handful of shots saved. The final score ended 11-8 in Huntington Beach’s favor. After the game, head coach Scott Penttila reflected on what he and the team were looking to improve on prior to the tournament and how he felt they delivered over the weekend.
“We’re working to become a better defensive team. We were focused on improving on our movement within our defensive system,” Pentilla said.
He then added, “I feel like we played solid defense throughout the tournament. However, there’s always room for improvement. We’ll continue to work to become more efficient in the system.”
Making it to any tournament finals takes a certain type of team chemistry. The Los Al upperclassmen seemed to be linking well and finding each other in crucial moments; Penttila highlighted this by mentioning that “the boys have a special bond and they’ve learned to play their hearts out for one another.”
The Griffins will get another shot at Huntington Beach High in a Surf League match on Wednesday at 5:10 p.m. at Los Alamitos High. Prior to that, the Griffins will host Foothill in a non-league match on Friday, starting at 5 p.m.
In this week’s CIF-SS Division 1 poll, Huntington Beach is ranked No. 6, with Los Al at No. 7 and Foothill at No. 10. The Griffins played at No. 3 ranked Newport Harbor on Wednesday for a Surf League match (past press time). They will close out the season against the Sea Kings on Oct. 26 at Los Al High.