An uplifting halftime speech and a five-goal barrage helped Long Beach Poly boys’ water polo come back and beat Millikan 10-9 in overtime on Wednesday night at Cabrillo High.
“Our coach (Ish Pluton) gave a really good motivational speech (after first half) and we just kind of went off from there and kept it up the rest of the game,” Poly’s Reece Hammond said. “Last year we lost to Millikan in overtime so it meant a lot to beat them this year. And it being that close made it feel that much better.”
Wednesday was the second night of Moore League play at Cabrillo, and was capped by this contest full of momentum swings. Millikan junior Max Miller and senior goalkeeper Kai Goeku pushed the Rams to a 5-2 halftime lead before Poly came alive in the third quarter.
The Jackrabbits also leaned on Hammond on the right flank to maintain it’s two-goal advantage down the stretch, but Miller and Maceo Glenn scored in the final minutes to force overtime. It was the five-meter penalty shot from freshman Colin Soohoo in the final seconds of the first overtime that proved to be the game winner.
“They fed off each other and are playing really hard for each other,” Pluton said of his team. “You could see it build and grow.”
Poly absorbed the Millikan pressure created by Miller and others early, but a return to its aggressive defending scheme sparked the Poly comeback.
“Once we reverted to building strong out of our press defense and transitioning that into our offense things started clicking back the way they should,” Pluton said. “We started chipping away and getting those goals back.”
After Goeku and Poly goalkeeper Charlie Lemmis traded highlight saves in the opening minutes of the game, Nick Cruz got the Jackrabbits on the board first. Matthew Hernandez pulled Millikan even with an exclusion goal. Andres Flores gave the Rams the lead, but Beau Wade tied it again before the end of the first quarter.
Miller scored a goal, dished out an assist and drew a five-meter penalty in the second quarter while the Rams built their 5-2 halftime lead.
Markus Cruz keyed the comeback with a pair of goals in the third quarter. The second score was an offensive rebound he pushed home, and then Teddy Flores gave Poly the lead with another hard-work goal in front of the cage.
With the game in the balance, Hammond found space on the right two score twice in the last 10 minutes to help keep the Jackrabbits in front.
“It’s mainly communication with my teammates,” Hammond said of what was working. “I’ve been around them so long we can kind of sync up like that and find each other.”
Miller scored three of this game-high four goals in the fourth quarter, and his five-meter with about a minute to play in regulation tied the game.
Again the two goalkeepers traded impressive stops to open the overtime period. They both finished with 9 saves.
Poly’s Markus Cruz changed the game when he shook his defender with less than a minute left in the first three-minute overtime. Millikan was whistled for the penalty after the deft maneuver, and Soohoo skipped his game-winner into the bottom corner of the cage. That was the only goal of the six extra minutes.
Millikan faces first-place Wilson next Friday, and the next game for Poly is a rematch with the Rams on Monday, March 17. Both games will be played at Cabrillo High.