Sometimes even when you play with all of your heart, the game does not end in your favor. On Saturday afternoon at Elsinore High School in Riverside County, the boys varsity water polo team's season came to an end with an 8-7 loss to Temescal High in the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division 6 tournament.
But to the Sharks credit, they played even with the third-ranked Titans throughout the game, and had a chance to win in the closing seconds.
Temecula got on the scoreboard first in the opening period with a goal from the set position after Malibu's Emmet Pierson was shoved while trying to defend. He was looking for an offensive foul on the Titans, but those turned out to be tough calls to get in this physical game.
Play went back and forth for a couple minutes until Malibu's Jordan Clarke was called for a penalty and Temecula scored on a 5-meter penalty shot. The Sharks had a couple good chances, but the first quarter ended with the Titans ahead 2-0.
The second quarter started with Malibu's Michael Mitze missing a good shot on goal. Temecula countered quickly and Sharks Jens Cole and Theo Guillemot swam back to defend. Malibu again got called for a penalty that allowed the Titans another 5-meter shot. This time, Shark goalie Dane Sartorius made an incredible block, which energized the Malibu squad.
Guillemot followed the missed penalty shot with a steal and nearly scored a goal on a breakaway, but a Temecula player swam over him from behind and Guillemot was not granted a penalty shot. However, a minute later, Cole found Mitze in front of the goal to put the Sharks on the scoreboard.
The Titans responded with a nice goal, even though Pierson had his arm draped around the shooter. Afterward, Pierson was openly hit in the face, and the referee warned both teams about being too physical. The face smack seemed to push Pierson into another gear, and he quickly sprinted to the goal on the next play. Clarke tossed him a great pass, and with a defender on his back, Pierson managed to get the ball to the back of the goal and cut the deficit to one.
The Sharks appeared to sense the tide was turning, and on their next offensive play, Cole made a great pass to Pierson. However, the ball barely tipped off his fingers and he missed the goal. The duo wasn't finished, and after Pierson stole the ball, Cole found him streaking to the goal with yet another great pass, and Pierson scored to tie the game at 3 goals apiece.
Cole, a sophomore, had been fighting for playing time lately. He really showed in this game what a key part of the team he is going to be going forward. And just to prove the point, he followed the assist with an improbable seven-meter shot that put the Sharks ahead 4-3. The many Malibu fans that made the journey to Riverside cheered loudly.
Mitze got another shot just before halftime, but missed the goal and the ball somehow hit a fan in the head and knocked her to the ground. She appeared to recover after a few minutes.
Both teams failed to execute on good offensive opportunities at the beginning of the second half. Sartorius also made a couple more great saves during that time.
Later in the third quarter, Guillemot was fouled outside the 5-meter mark and shot the ball into the goal. However, the referee ruled that Guillemot was inside the 5-meter line when he was fouled and disallowed the score.
The two teams had a couple back-and-forth possessions without a score, and then Guillemot found Mitze in front of the goal. Although a Temecula defender appeared to go completely over his back, no call was made. The Titans quickly countered, and Cole was called for a penalty in front of the goal. The Temecula player completely missed the penalty shot and Sartorius quickly passed to Clarke, who found Pierson streaking to the goal and he was awarded a 5-meter penalty shot when the defender swam over him.
Clarke took the penalty shot and hit the top bar, causing the ball to bounce out. Malibu's George Karaghossian was called for a penalty on the next possession, and the Titans capitalized with a score.
Some exciting plays by Malibu followed, including a steal by Guillemot, a save by Sartorius and a near-breakaway goal by Karaghossian. The Titans earned a 5-meter penalty shot after Pierson swam over a Temecula player to prevent a breakaway goal. Sartorius had one of his best saves of the season as he blocked the penalty shot.
Both teams played great water polo during the next several minutes. The ball finally got to Mitze at set, and the defender appeared to swim over him again. No penalty was called and this turned out to be a big play as the ball was quickly passed up the pool, and the Titans scored to take a 5-4 lead.
The fourth quarter started with very physical play. Clarke made a great block on a Titan shot, and then Pierson got pushed off by a Temecula player, who scored a goal that was disallowed because he head-butted Pierson. The Titans kept the attack up and eventually got the ball into the goal to make the score 6-4.
The Sharks struck right back as Morgan Hathorn made a perfect pass to Pierson, who threw the ball into the goal to make the score 6-5. The Titans responded with a goal following a foul by Karaghossian, making the score 7-5.
Guillemot barely missed a 6-meter shot on the next possession, and the Titans countered quickly and passed to the set position. Pierson appeared to be head-butted again, but no call was made and the Titans scored to extend their lead to 8-5.
Malibu head coach Mike Mulligan called a timeout to try to rally the boys in the closing minutes of the game. The Sharks were down by three goals with about three minutes remaining, the same position they were in last season when Malibu came from behind to defeat Beaumont in the CIF semifinals.
Following the timeout, Hathorn got a steal. Karaghossian passed to a battling Clarke at the set position, and Clarke fired the ball in to cut the deficit to two. After the Titans failed to score with a man advantage, Guillemot passed to Clarke, who was fouled at about the four-meter mark. Clarke then fired the ball in and the referee allowed the goal to make the score 8-7.
On the next possession, the Titans had a great chance when Hathorn was sent off for a foul, but Pierson stole the ball and the Sharks earned one last chance to score. Mulligan gathered the entire team for one last talk. The game restarted with 16 seconds remaining. Guillemot got the ball to Clarke, who was tackled by two Titans—and the game was over.
The last game of the year is always tough unless it ends with a CIF championship. Although there were some sad and unhappy Sharks on the pool deck, they acted with class, congratulating the Titans and shaking hands with both referees. This was not the ending the Malibu players had hoped for, but they had every reason to hold their heads high.
The departing seniors should all be proud of their accomplishments this year, which included a 20-7-1 record and a share of the Tri-Valley League title. Every one of them stepped up and played the best water polo of their careers. And for the rest of the team, they should be excited about next season. The 2012 Sharks will be a solid team that will challenge for the CIF crown.