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PHOTO BY MARTIN KLEIN, CORONA DEL MAR AQUATICS; TEXT BY DAN ALBANO, OCVARSITY.COM
Huntington Beach's Quinten Osborne, left, guards Corona del Mar's Ben Brooks in a nonleague match Wednesday at Corona del Mar. The Oilers rallied for a 9-7 victory.

Huntington Beach uses strong finish to beat CdM

STAFF WRITER

Huntington Beach’s boys water polo program has been stockpiling talent, but the Oilers showed Wednesday they have an abundance of another ingredient that leads to victories: composure.

The third-ranked Oilers displayed an even temperament and quiet confidence in rallying from a three-goal deficit late in the third period to defeat host No. 5 Corona del Mar, 9-7, in a season-opening match between Division 1 contenders.

Senior James Vlachonassios scored four of his match-high five goals in the decisive stretch that saw the Oilers erase a 6-3 deficit and post their first victory against CdM since the 2011 South Coast Tournament quarterfinals.

Goalie Patrick Saunders also helped Huntington Beach slam the door by making five of his 13 saves in the fourth period. Jacob Cavano added three steals in the final frame, including a key tip-away against a Corona del Mar power-play chance with 59 seconds remaining.

“We definitely didn’t panic,” Vlachonassios said. “The main focus of all our practices has really been mental toughness. We know if we get down in a game, we’re always back in it.”

First-year coach Sasa Branisavljevic said the Oilers' experience -- which includes a trip to the Division 1 semifinals last season -- showed.

"They have been there before so we understand what it takes to come out of those sticky situations and I'm very happy that we were able to pull through," he said. "The players who needed to put the game away and step up at a certain time did."

Corona del Mar took a 6-3 lead with 2:45 left in the third on a power-play strike by Will Rodosky off a pass from Foster Hoose.

But before the end of the third, Vlachonassios scored on a drive and dish from Ethan Wojciechowski and Skyler Munatones added a perimeter strike for last season’s Division 1 semifinalists. Vlachonassios then scored the first three goals of the fourth, including two on counterattacks.

“My teammates really set me up,” said Vlachonassios, who turned a save by Saunders into a counterattack goal and 8-6 lead with 4:35 left.

A minute later, Cavano added another counterattack strike off a pass from Wade Shipman as the Oilers opened a 9-6 lead and capped a 6-0 run.

“I didn’t have a comfort level at that point (of the 6-3 lead) because they’re good and you can’t get comfortable,” Corona del Mar coach Barry O’Dea said.

Center Brendan Hack scored three goals and drew four exclusions to lead Corona del Mar. The Sea Kings also got nine saves from University transfer Matt Moran, but went 3 for 9 on the power play, including a 6-on-4 miss.

Huntington Beach plays host to Cathedral Catholic of San Diego on Thursday at 4 p.m.

In another game:

No. 4 Foothill 16, Capistrano Valley 6: The bus transporting the visiting Knights home after the match broke down, pulled off the I-5 freeway and caught fire after players exited, Coach Jim Brumm said. “Everyone is fine,” he said. “The only thing we lost was a bag of (water polo) balls.”

Contact the writer: dalbano@ocregister.com


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