BELMONT SHORES, Calif., November 26. IT was theirs for the taking.
All the Villa Park boys' water polo team had to do was win one game, one more measly little game, and they'd finish the season unbeaten and CIF Division II champions on the evening of November 22 at the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool.
Piece of cake, right? Nothing to it but to do it.
Alas, it wasn't to be.
The second-seeded Los Alamitos Griffins made sure Villa Park didn't make history at their expense, upsetting its top-seeded opponent, 8-7, to win the Southern Section DII title.
Los Alamitos junior Clayton Snyder, who equalled VIlla Park's Scott Davidson's team-high scoring with three goals, said: "We had it in our heart that we would win this game. It shows hard work and heart can prevail."
Los Alamitos ruled venerable Belmont's waters and put paid to Villa Park's dreams of becoming the first Orange County team to finish unbeaten since Coach Bill Barnett's 1978 Newport Harbor team.
Playing before a full house of 1000, Los Alamitos (25-6) never trailed and broke a 7-7 tie on a counterattack goal by leading-scorer Davidson with 2:33 left in the fourth period. Davidson rifled home a well-placed, cross-cage lob shot for the winning point and also had a match-high four steals.
Villa Park (32-1) failed to score after its final tie at 7-7 when Alex Churnside made a counterattack goal with 48 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Villa Park missed its last and perhaps best opportunity at tying the score in the final minute. Shea Buckner, Orange County's leading scorer, took a pass in front of the Los Alamitos net on a counterattack. Then, with but 48 seconds remaining, his lob shot bounced off the crossbar, rebounded to Los Alamitos and that wrote finis to a perfect season.
"The lob was actually open, he (Buckner) just missed," Los Alamitos coach Dave Carlson said.
Buckner still had one last chance to tie the match but couldn't quite do the deed. With three seconds left he launched a shot from 7 meters, but Los Alamitos junior goalie Casey Simon put paid to the effort, preserved the win and the championship.