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Coming off an exhilarating week that saw a 92-year CIF title drought come to an end, the Long Beach Poly boys’ water polo team did what it needed to do on Tuesday night at the Cabrillo High pool: survive and advance. At no point was the outcome really in question for the highly-favored Jackrabbits, who dispatched of visiting Cleveland High by a 20-9 final score in their opening game of the CIF State Division 3 SoCal Regional bracket, but Poly certainly didn’t play its sharpest game of the season.
“It’s tough to rebound from the high of the championship,” admitted Poly head coach Ish Pluton. “There were a couple of really good moments tonight where we were playing Poly water polo, and there were a couple of moments where it was a little bit discombobulated, a little bit lackadaisical on defense. And those are all things we need to sharpen up for Thursday.”
Long Beach Poly is the first local team to get to compete in the CIF State SoCal Regional tournament for water polo, which started back in 2017. The Jackrabbits are the No. 3 seed in the Division 3 tournament, and will have to go on the road for Thursday’s semifinals to take on No. 2 seed Palisades.
Against Cleveland, Poly came out strong from the outset with a pair of goals by Reece Hammond and a first-quarter hat trick by Chaz Pruett to lead 5-1 after the opening quarter. The Cavaliers twice cut the Poly lead to just two goals in that second period, forcing the Jackrabbits to get some starters back in the pool and re-assert their dominance.
A 3-0 run to close the first half gave the hosts a 10-5 lead at intermission, and Poly never looked back from there. Pluton gave his team a stern message at halftime, and the Jackrabbits responded with a 5-1 run to start the third quarter and put the game out of reach.
“He just told us that if we keep playing the way we were that we’d lose,” said Pruett of his coach’s halftime message to the team. “We just had to pick it up and play our championship water polo.”
Hammond finished with five goals to lead Poly’s offensive attack, with Pruett chipping in four. Tyler Oatey and Collin Soohoo each had a hat trick for the Jackrabbits, and eight different players ended up finding the scoresheet. Oatey also added four assists and five steals to lead the team in both categories
Jaden Flores scored a pair of goals off the bench, and Billy Cruz, Emerson LaPorta and Beau Wade each scored once. Charlie Lemmis collected eight saves inside the cage.
The Jackrabbits will be back on the road on Thursday as they visit Palisades for a 5 p.m. semifinal clash. The Dolphins won their first-round game 17-9 against Birmingham, and also won a previous meeting with Long Beach Poly back on Oct. 14, handing the Jackrabbits a 10-6 loss in tournament play.
Hammond said that the Jackrabbits weren’t as prepared as they needed to be for that meeting, but the team will look to correct those mistakes this time around.
“Last time we played them we didn’t take it as seriously from the start,” Hammond admitted. “We had a poor warm-up and that resulted in poor play. I think if we have more focus and have the right mindset for this game then we’ll be able to come out on top.”
The562’s high school interns Aidan Currie and Wiley Haga contributed to this story.