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Even in defeat, the Lakewood boys’ water polo team proved how much they’ve improved over the course of this historic season. The Lancers made their first trip to the postseason in eight years, and saw that memorable run come to a close on Saturday in their home pool.
Lakewood ended up on the wrong side of a 9-6 final score against Heritage High School in the CIF-SS Division 6 quarterfinals.
In one of Lakewood’s first games of this season, the Lancers suffered an 18-3 loss to Heritage, putting Saturday’s performance into some more perspective. In the rematch, Lakewood was able to double its goal total against the Patriots while cutting their opponents’ score in half.
First-year Lancers head coach Charles Wright was thrilled with how his team competed, despite suffering the loss.
“This was beautiful,” Wright said. “Ee lost to them by 15 goals at the start of the year, and these guys have all grown. They just have, they’ve grown up. This feels like we have a bit of an identity now, we have a spirit. It was just beautiful, these guys are fighters.”
Junior Aaron Talag led the way for the Lancers offensively with a hat trick, while senior Soren Widmann had a pair of goals for the home team. Senior Nathan Napohaku didn’t hit the scoresheet, but was a terror on defense with a number of steals for Lakewood. He also dished out three assists.
Emmanuel De La Torre led all scorers with four goals for Heritage. He was backed up by a hat trick from Caiden Guss.
Heritage got on the board first on a five-meter penalty by De La Torre in the first quarter, after struggling to find a way past Lakewood goalie John Borders, who had five of his 16 saves in the opening period.
Talag scored a pair of goals in the second quarter, tying the game each time as the teams went into halftime knotted, 3-3.
Again Heritage converted a five-meter penalty to take a 4-3 lead in the third, but Lakewood would score consecutive goals to take its first lead of the day, 5-4, with 2:34 left in the third period. Napohaku provided an assist to Talag inside for his third goal of the game, then snagged a steal and was fouled to set up a penalty shot for Widmann.
Unfortunately for the host Lancers, Heritage scored four times over the final 2:07 of the third quarter to take an 8-5 lead into the final quarter.
Widmann scored with just under five minutes left on the clock to pull the Lancers to within a goal, but things never broke Lakewood’s way from that point on.
First, Lakewood had a Talag goal waved off for an offensive foul, then there was disagreement between the two-man refereeing crew on a call involving Napohaku. It appeared he may have been fouled from behind after slipping past his defender, a play which drew a whistle from the referee on the opposite end of the pool. However, after a discussion between the two officials, there was no foul called and the ball was awarded to Heritage. Both of the calls came with Lakewood trailing 8-6 and nearly three minutes left in the game.
“I think he called four turnovers in a row on our offensive possessions in the fourth,” Wright said following the game. “I’ve never seen that before in 20 years of playing. The two refs couldn’t even agree on calls. Nathan’s big turn, a beautiful turn inside, the guy comes over and climbs over the top. To not call that in the fourth quarter in a playoff game, that’s a big non call.”
Despite the frustrating decisions late, Lakewood did leave some opportunities on the table–the Lancers were just 2/7 in man-up opportunities on Saturday.
Lakewood’s season comes to an end after a pair of playoff wins while Heritage will advance to take on Ocean View in Wednesday’s Division 6 semifinal.