The562’s coverage of boys’ water polo is sponsored by Aquatic Capital of America Foundation.
The562’s coverage of Long Beach Wilson Athletics is sponsored by Joel Bitonio, Class of 2009.
Overwhelming effort was the key to victory for Wilson boys’ water polo in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs on Wednesday.
The Bruins opened the game with a lot of emotion to take a lead, and then out-swim the Eagles in the second half on their way to a 12-10 victory. Wilson hosts No. 2 seed Corona del Mar on Saturday at Long Beach City College.
“We came out with the most energy, we were ready and we wanted it more,” said Wilson senior Sean Tunnicliff, who scored a game-high six goals. “I think we did a great job of playing our game… The emotion was there. We were there to support each other. When we were in the pool nothing else mattered.”
Wilson goalkeeper Brady Simon was strong in the cage again with nine saves. He opened the match with a pair of nice stops, and then closed it with two saves in the last 1:24 of the game to secure the victory.
“It doesn’t get any better than this. Belmont, night time, stands packed… we came to play and we showed up big,” Simon said. “It’s composure. When you are locked in and focused with your boys by your side nobody can beat you.”
The Bruins (14-13) relied on their aggressiveness to build pressure and got a handful of breakaway opportunities thanks to Santa Margarita fouls. Tunnicilff converted a pair of 5-meter penalty shots in the fourth quarter.
“I just pick a spot and I just shoot it there,” he said. “If I ever second guess myself it doesn’t go in.”
“Like in most games, our fitness helps us,” Wilson coach Zach Polmanteer added. “We have a couple breakaways, and while we didn’t finish all of them, that pressure and threat of going the other way with a quick counter is threatening. If they’re shooting while thinking about getting countered, it’s working.”
Clinton Haltom, Robbie Merlo and Wyatt Mitchell all scored for Wilson in the first quarter and the Bruins led 3-2 after seven minutes.
Wilson scored goals on three of its first four exclusion man-up opportunities, and two of them came to start the second quarter as Mitchell assisted on Tunnicliff’s first goal, who then assisted on an Enzo Briggagliano goal.
Tunnicliff scored a lob shot to put the Bruins up 6-2 with three minutes left before halftime, but Keegan McGann sparked a 3-0 run for Santa Margarita and the visitors only trailed 6-5 at the break. McGann scored a team-high four goals for the Eagles.
Santa Margarita tied the game 7-7 with 3:39 left in the third quarter, but a Haltom exclusion goal and a Tunnicliff 5-meter penalty goal put Wilson back up 9-7 headed to the fourth quarter.
“Penalties are often a reward for that swimming and effort,” Polmanteer said. “I just want to see my guys attacking the goal.”
These two evenly matched squads traded goals in the final stanza, but Simon had his loudest saves of the night in the waning minutes while his defense around him came up with two field blocks in the final three minutes. Tunnicliff scored his final goal into an empty net while the Eagles pushed everything forward looking for a comeback.
“That’s as close as you can be without going to OT,” Polmanteer said.
Wilson has a tough task on Saturday against a Corona del Mar team that beat the Bruins twice this season.
“We have a lot of good momentum building throughout the season, we’ve been working hard and we’ve got two key practices on Thursday and Friday… we’re ready for it,” Tunnicliff said.