May 30, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

Portola gives top-seeded LB Poly a battle but falls 7-6 in semifinals

Portola Coach Kate Avery talks to her team during a timeout Wednesday. (Photo Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone).

Portola’s boys water polo team gave top-seeded Long Beach Poly all it could handle Wednesday evening in the CIF Division 4 semifinals at Woodbridge.

But Poly broke 6-6 tie on a 6-on-5 goal by Beau Wade with 51 seconds left and held on for a 7-6 victory to advance into Saturday’s finals vs. Crespi at 2:50 p.m. at the Woollett Aquatics Complex. It was the first time since 1977 that Poly has been in the semifinals. The school’s last appearance in the CIF finals was in 1929, according to Long Beach Poly Coach Ishmael Pluton.

Fourth-seeded Portola, which was playing in the playoffs for the first time in school history, had its sights set on an upset when it tied the game on a goal by Kasra Sowlati with 4:54 remaining in the game.

The Bulldogs (22-11) rallied from a 3-0 halftime deficit and trailed by one going into the fourth quarter but could not come all the way back.

Portola Coach Kate Avery came away proud of her team’s effort.

“That was a heckuva game,” Avery said. “We were never out of it. We said, ‘don’t even worry about the score, just continue to play our system.’

“This team bonds really well with their chemistry. I haven’t coached a team with this level of chemistry before. That’s what got them through the second half. We’ve never been here before and the fact that first time we ever go to CIF and go to semifinals, that’s phenomenal.”

The match was scoreless after one quarter. But Poly moved out to a 1-0 lead on a goal by Colin Sohoo with 3:59 left in the second quarter. The Jackrabbits, who were cheered on by a large contingent of Long Beach fans, added two goals by Reece Hammond, one on a penalty shot to move out to a 3-0 lead at halftime.

Portola gave its fans plenty to cheer about, outscoring Poly 4-2 in the third quarter to cut the lead to one. Luke Porter, Noam Garibi (two) and Sowlati had goals for the Bulldogs in the quarter.

“I’m beyond proud, this team didn’t let anything get in their way,” Avery said. “We wanted to go to CIF this year. And it’s really something I’m proud of.”

Poly (18-12) now prepares for Saturday’s finals vs. Crespi at the Woollett Aquatics Complex in Irvine.

“It’s a really big deal for us,” said Pluton, the Poly coach. “What’s really cool about Poly is a lot of alums come back to coach and teach and I’m one of the lucky ones who gets to be back at my alma mater coaching and teaching. So much of what makes Poly athletics is the tradition and culture so to be able as the water polo team to get back into that contention to be part of that big, long and illustrious history is something we wear as an extreme sense of pride right on our sleeves.

“I couldn’t be any more any more proud of the fact that I’m lucky enough to coach this team in the CIF finals.”

Avery, the Portola coach, is optimistic about the future of the young program. The squad had only five seniors and most of the players will return next year.

“Almost the entire starting lineup is returning,” she said.

Both teams had balanced scoring. Hammond, Chaz Pruett and Soohoo had two goals each for Poly. Porter, Garibi and Sowlati had two goals each for Portola.

—Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone; timburt@ocsportszone.com