BELMONT SHORES, Calif., November 23. THE "Bruins" may have been in ruins some 25 miles up the freeway in Pasadena, but this evening at the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool these Bruins were the champs.
Long Beach Wilson High's Bruins, defending CIF Division 1 boys' water polo champs, undefeated (31-zip) and top-seeded, ended a perfect season with a hard-fought 14-11 win over Corona del Mar's Sea Kings.
(UCLA's football Bruins lost to crosstown USC, 52-21, earlier this afternoon at the Rose Bowl.)
The water polo match was played before an overflow crowd of 2,500 rabid fans, who jammed into every nook and cranny of Belmont's venerable stands and deck area.
Long Beach thus defends the title it won last season over Harvard-Westlake and wins its sixth championship in the last seven years.
Corona del Mar, which had won three consecutive Division II titles, saw its 15-match playoff streak end. Wilson has now won a remarkable 39 straight matches over the last two seasons.
Going in, Wilson coach Tony Martinho, a member of the Bruins' first CIF title-winning team 21 years ago, felt confident in view of the fact that Wilson had thrice defeated the Sea Kings this season — 10-7 twice and then 11-9 in the semis of the TruWest tournament earlier this month.
"I told our kids just do the same things they had done all season long to get us to this point and we'd be fine," the coach said. "They did and we won."
However, it wasn't quite that simple. The Bruins almost let one "Mann" beat them — the Sea Kings' John Mann, who scored a team- and game-high eight goals in a valiant but losing effort.
All season long as the losses to Wilson mounted, Mann said that Corona del Mar could still be competitive with the Bruins. The Sea Kings' standout senior even said it after defeating Harvard-Westlake to gain the finals.
For almost three and-a-half periods, it seemed as if Mann's words would prove prophetic, as his big right arm would prove devastatingly effective in finding the goal.
The second-seeded Sea Kings, under rookie coach John Salvino, pushed the top-seeded defending champs like they hadn't been pushed all season.
However, it takes more than one "Mann" to k.o. the champs. By the final whistle, Wilson's "gutty but not so little" Bruins had simply worn down yet another opponent in the fourth-quarter to complete a perfect season,
Their exciting 14-11 victory over the Sea Kings made them a perfect four-for-four against CDM, a model of consistency and dominance that came in the face of Mann's great offensive showing.
Corona del Mar held a 5-2 lead during the second quarter and led, 6-5, at the half, thanks to Mann's five goals. A strapping 6-5, 225 pound junior national team member, Mann was a virtual one-man wrecking crew who gave the Bruin defense fits.
However, Wilson came out firing on all cylinders to start the third quarter, scoring three goals in the first 1:29 to not only take its first lead but open an 8-6 advantage
The score was tied, 10-10, going into the fourth period. Mann had accounted for his eighth and final goal to cut the Bruins' lead to 12-11 with 4:29 left, but that as close as the Sea Kings (20-8) got. Wilson went on top, 14-11, with a pair of goals just 30 seconds apart for its first three-goal lead of the match.
"Being tied with them going into the fourth quarter, I couldn't ask for any more," Salvino said. He took over as the Sea Kings' coach this season after their former head man, John Vargas, left to coach the Stanford men — defending NCAA champs and among the favorites to win again the second weekend of next month at Loyola.
Mann's eight goals matched his season-high against Bellarmine and came on a variety of shots: outside, turns at 2-meters, backhander and rebound.
"John played such a tremendous game," Salvino said. "I know for a fact that he couldn't play any harder."
Perhaps finally getting worn down in the final quarter by Wilson's tenacious defense, Mann was called for two ejections. The Bruins converted both into goals and finished 3 for 5 on the power-play.
"This is definitely the hardest game we've had all season," said Wilson 2-meter man John Foster, who scored a team-high five goals, including four in the second half.
* * * * *
In Divison II, the top-seeded Servite Friars, upset in last year's semis, had a tough time early before pulling away to defeat unseeded Los Alamitos, 15-8. The Friars (29-2) trailed, 5-3, before scoring four goals in the final 1:21 of the first half. The last goal came on a length-of-the-pool shot by Trevor Clark as time expired.
The top-seeded teams in Division III, IV and V weren't as successful. Manhattan Beach Mira Costa upset South Pasadena, 9-7, in Division III; La Verne Damien won its first section title with a 10-9 victory over double-defending Division V champion Riverside Poly; and Santa Maria Righetti toppled Ventura, 10-9, in overtime to win Division IV. Ventura lost in last season's finale too, 11-7 to Santa Barbara.
Ventura's Luke Bannan tied the score, 7-7, with eight seconds left in regulation play. Matt Dale then scored two of Righetti's three goals in overtime to lift the third-seeded Warriors (27-5) to their third title in the last five years.
Damien (29-2) and Riverside Poly were tied seven times before Damien's J.P Wright stole the ball at midpool and fired a long pass to wide open teammate Philip Giudice, who scored to give the second-seeded Spartans a 10-9 overtime lead with 59 seconds remaining — and the victory.
Mira Costa (24-7) won its second title in three years, taking a two-goal lead on Travis Buchannan's goal late in the first half and keeping South Pasadena at bay. Buchannan led the third-seeded Mustangs with four goals.
Bonita won its second consecutive Division VI title with a 15-8 victory over second-seeded Hacienda Heights Los Altos. Nick Corjon scored three of his team-high four goals in the first half as the top-seeded Bearcats (24-10) built a 7-2 lead.
– Bill Bell
Long Beach Wilson 14, Corona del Mar 11
Servite 15, Los Alamitos 8
Mira Costa 9, South Pasadena 7
Righetti 10, Ventura 9 (OT)
Damien 10, Riverside Poly 9
Bonita 15, Los Altos 8