May 20, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

Tustin’s boys water polo team tops Hillcrest 10-8 in semifinals and goes for first CIF title since 1982 on Saturday

Carlos Sabillon of Tustin takes a shot during Wednesday’s semifinal playoff match. (Photo courtesy Tustin High).

Kaleb Anderson scored four goals to lead the top-seeded Tustin High water polo team to a 10-8 victory over Hillcrest of Riverside in the CIF Division 6 semifinals Wednesday evening at Foothill High.

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

On Saturday at Irvine’s Wollett Aquatic Center, the Tillers (19-10) will attempt to win the school’s first water polo championship since 1982 when they take on Valley View.

The match will be at 1:30 p.m. on the left course pool at the Woollett Aquatics Complex.

Trailing 8-6 after three periods, the Trojans (22-9) closed the gap to 8-7 after Domonic Hidalgo scored with 5:24 to play.

However, following a timeout, Aidan Caporicci upped the Tillers lead to 9-7 with a goal at the 4:14 mark.

“That goal took some of the pressure off for us,” said Caporicci.

Tustin then had an excellent opportunity to extend its lead but Hillcrest’s goalkeeper Levi Sanchez stopped three-point blank Tillers shots, two by Caporicci and one by Anderson to keep within striking distance.

Anderson skipped in a goal with 2:36 left to give the Tillers some more breathing room and excite the near capacity crowd. The Trojans added a late tally but it was too little too late.

“It’s a dream come true going to the CIF finals,” Caporicci said.

“We worked together as a team and we communicated well,” said Anderson. “This is special for me. I’m a senior and I haven’t been to CIF and this is the first time the program has been to the finals since 1982. We’re having fun and it’s all positive vibes.”

Both goalies were outstanding as they kept their teams in the match.

Sanchez made 23 stops for the Trojans while Scott Olsen made 21 saves.

“I was nervous and super stressed but we all remained focused,” Olsen, a sophomore, said. “As the game wore on, I calmed down and I didn’t want to mess up.”

Tillers coach Kyle Brawley was thrilled with the win and the opportunity to go to the finals.

“Three years ago, we didn’t have a win and each year since then we’ve gotten better,” said Brawley, whose team won its ninth consecutive game. “We stressed to these guys not to get emotional during the game and remain disciplined and they did.”

Hillcrest came in as a top-notch opponent having won the River Valley League with a 10-0 record and outscoring its opponents 405-234.

“We had to try and neutralize their big scorers Hidalgo and Marc Mosqueda and then let our other guys beat their guys,” said Brawley.

Hidalgo and Mosqueda combined to score 189 goals this season and scored 6 of the Trojans 8 goals in the game but Tustin got clutch play from Christian Fernandez, Edsson Sandoval and Carlos Sabillion which made the difference.

“I came out for the team when I was a freshman and I could barely swim and today I scored a goal in the CIF semifinals, it’s amazing,” said Fernandez, whose goal in the final minute of the first half gave the Tillers a 5-2 lead.

Both teams scored three goals apiece in the third period as the Tillers took an 8-6 lead and setting the stage for a frantic final seven-minutes of play.

“They made less mistakes than we did,” said Hillcrest coach Kayla Weller. “They are a very strong team, maybe the best we faced all season.”

To reach the semifinals Tustin defeated Estancia, Warren and West Torrance in earlier playoff rounds.

IT’S BEEN A SPECIAL SEASON FOR TUSTIN’S BOYS WATER POLO TEAM

SATURDAY’S FULL SCHEDULE OF CIF FINALS IN IRVINE

-Tom Connolly, For OC Sports Zone