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Long Beach Poly boys’ water polo is in the CIF Southern Section semifinals for the first time since 1977, and will be traveling to Irvine this evening to face Portola High at Woodbridge High at 5 p.m.
Poly is the top seed in the Division 4 playoffs while Portola is the No. 4 seed, but the two teams are arguably the top in the division as Portola was ranked No. 1 for most of the season. The weight of history is on the Jackrabbits program, as they try to advance to their first-ever CIF-SS title game–Poly has won 11 CIF-SS titles but they were in the 1910s and 1920s when the winner of the SoCal League was crowned CIF-SS champion.
“We care so deeply about it, there’s so much school pride that we wear on our sleeves,” said Poly coach Ish Pluton. Poly’s natatorium has a banner with CIF-SS titles on it hanging on the wall, and there’s no entries after 1929. “That’s what we want is to get back up on that board, we’ve been talking about it all year. It matters a ton.”
The Jackrabbits have had a balanced offensive and defensive approach through the playoffs and have outscored their three opponents so far by a score of 58-21. Their closest game was an 18-8 quarterfinal win over Pasadena Poly last weekend to set up today’s showdown with Portola.
“It gets a lot tougher in this round, Portola is a very good team that’s really, really good at what they do,” said Pluton. “We’ve got to focus on playing our game and not get caught up playing theirs.”
Poly’s goalie Charlie Lemmis has headlined a terrific total team defense that’s seen players like Tyler Oatey and Beau Wade racking up plenty of steals. On offense, Poly has co-leading scorers in Reece Hammond and Chaz Pruett, who are separated by only one goal apiece on the season. Markus Cruz is leading the team in assists as he’s been distributing the ball well through the playoffs.
If the Jackrabbits win tonight, they’ll advance to Saturday’s CIF-SS championship at Woollett Aquatic Center, with time to be determined. The winner of Poly/Portola’s semifinal will face the winner of Crespi/Camarillo.