May 20, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

Portola keeps CIF title hopes alive with quarterfinal round win over Crean Lutheran

Portola’s Ryder Tonkovich defends against Connor McTaggart of Crean Lutheran. (Photos courtesy Crean Lutheran Shutterbugs, John Luciano).

Portola High School’s boys water polo team kept its hopes for a CIF title alive Saturday evening, defeating Crean Lutheran 16-11 in the quarterfinal round of the Division 2 playoffs at Portola.

The Bulldogs (24-6) move on to the semifinals Wednesday vs. top-seeded San Marcos (23-9) at San Marcos. Dos Pueblos and Ventura play in the other semifinal.

Portola reached the CIF Division 3 finals last year, losing to Damien 18-11. But since then, the Bulldogs have been determined to get back to the finals.

‘It’s kind of incredible the last three years we’ve made it to the semifinals every year in different divisions, four, three and two, that’s just a spectacular accomplishment for us and we’re so excited about it,” said Portola Coach Kate Avery.

Ryder Tonkovich scored nine goals, Noam Garibi had four and Luke Porter two goals to lead the Bulldogs Saturday.

To see the slide show, click on the first photo:

Portola held a 7-5 lead at halftime before breaking the game open in the fourth quarter much to the delight of a large contingent of Bulldog fans. The bleacher section was also filled with many Crean Lutheran fans cheering on the city game.

“For a lot of these guys, they know a lot of the other players,” Avery said. “They called the game the Battle of the Boulevard because both schools are off of Irvine Boulevard. We knew it was going to be close, we knew it was going to be personal and that they know each other. That third quarter started, we gave them a couple of goals and then Ryder had three back to back goals in the third.”

Portola goalie Asher Wettstein, a first year varsity player, was also solid.

“Asher blocked a five-meter and had a couple of steals,” Avery said. “He had a rock-star game as well,” Avery said.

The Bulldogs were fired up to get the win.

“It was a big win, honestly I was insanely nervous before the game, but as we started chipping away and got another goal and another goal I felt the nerves go down and it’s an amazing feeling to get that win,” said Garibi, who played his last game in the Portola pool.

“Honestly, Ryder played amazing, that was one of his best games all year and we came together and got some good team goals at the end too. It was overall a really good team game.

“It’s been three years in the making and every year we got a step closer and closer and I feel like this might be the year and we can win it all, so it’s exciting.”

Crean Lutheran Coach Ed Carrera praised the efforts of his team, which was elevated to Division 2 this year and captured the Empire League title.

“We battled, I think overperformed this year, I think we reached our expectations,” Carrera said. “We wanted to win it all but I don’t think anybody thought we would be here. We were the 14th or 17th seed going into CIF. To come into a quarterfinal shows a lot about our group.

“I was telling the boys, and obviously, they’re down, but not even JSerra moved up as fast as we did. We moved from Division 6 two years ago to four to two in a really, really rapid rate. I think we did awesome for being Division 2.”

Connor McTaggart and Julian Amakasu led the Saints (18-12) with four goals each.

Carrera said a couple of players stood out this season.

“Jon DiPinto’s leadership, he was our captain all year and he helped us get here and Julian Amakasu was sort of our driving offensive force and our general out there,” Carrera said.

Carrera said he’s optimistic about the program.

“We have a lot freshmen who start and we’re only losing one guy so the future looks good,” Carrera said.

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