El Toro's Chad Nelson, left, shoots past Dana Hills' Cemeron Canizales during a nonleague match at El Toro on Tuesday.

El Toro escapes with win over league rival Dana Hills


El Toro’s boys water polo team didn’t lose sight of its goal Tuesday during the twists and turns of an early-season showdown against nemesis Dana Hills.

The No. 8 Chargers built a four-goal lead at halftime and then overcame foul trouble and a spirited second-half surge by the visiting No. 6 Dolphins to post a 12-11 victory in overtime in a South Coast League opener.

The four-time defending league champion Dolphins (3-4) scored first in overtime before the Chargers (5-2) rattled off three consecutive goals to open a 12-10 cushion at the end of the first three-minute overtime.

“We knew that it was now or never,” said El Toro senior Chad Nelson, who scored a match-high five goals and added two assists. “If we lost this game, it would that much harder to win another league title for El Toro. … We all put it in our heads that we’re winning this game and they can’t stop us.”

El Toro led, 7-3, at halftime after Nelson’s late perimeter strike off a pass by Grant Williams. Dana Hills tied the score, 9-9, with 15 seconds left in regulation on a goal by Cemeron Canizales after a steal by Kaden Likins.

Likins scored from center early in the first three-minute overtime to give Dana Hills a 10-9 lead, its first since the middle of the second period.

El Toro, which had lefty Jack Leighton foul out in the third, responded with three consecutive goals. Trent Rivers scored from center, freshman Kian Sadeghi skipped in a shot from 9 meters and Nelson beat the buzzer with another skip-shot goal.

The Chargers beat Dana Hills in league for the first time since 2012 and took a giant step toward securing their first league crown since 2011. 

“It’s just a big win for the program,” third-year El Toro coach Justin Johnson said. “The entire time I've been here, I don't think we've had a big win. ... That’s a big step for us to take. Once you win a big game, you start believing."

Johnson praised goalie Anthony Coppin (13 saves) and his power-play defense, which held Dana Hills to a 4 for 13 effort. Nelson led six El Toro players with field blocks with three.

"That's something we spend a lot of time on - field blocks," said Johnson, whose team recorded eight. "(That was) huge."

The Chargers earned only one 6-on-5 advantage, converting it for goal in the first period.

The Dolphins' second-half play along with their struggles on the power-play left Dana Hills coach Matt Rosa with mixed emotions. He praised his players for not giving up in the second half but thought they could have played better together. He also accepted some of the responsibility for the loss.

"I thought we didn't share the ball at all," Rosa said. "I thought we were very deliberate. I didn't think we were looking for each other and I thought the team let us down."

As for El Toro building a four-goal lead in the first half, Rosa said, "I didn't (expect) us going down by four in that game. I'm not going to lie. ... I'll take some responsibility for that."

In another South Coast game:

Aliso Niguel 11, Capo Valley 6: Skylar Lee scored four goals for the visiting Wolverines, who trailed, 4-2, at halftime. Aiden Sandhu made 13 saves for the Cougars.

In nonleague:

No. 7 Laguna Beach 9, No. 10 Santa Margarita (OT) 8: Colton Gregory scored the winning goal on a power play with 11 seconds left as the Breakers (4-3) edged the host Eagles (3-2), who received 15 saves from Noah Hodge. Gordon Pike made 14 saves for Laguna Beach.

No. 5 Corona del Mar 12, Long Beach Wilson 5: Matt Moran made nine saves and the Sea Kings scored the first five goals of the fourth period in the victory at the Belmont Plaza outdoor pool.

No. 9 Newport Harbor 17, San Clemente 10: Connor Turnbow-Lindenstadt scored six goals to lead the Sailors (4-1), who led, 10-4, at halftime.

Yorba Linda 10, Brea Olinda 5: Jacob Walker made 17 saves to lead the host Mustangs.

University 18, Marina 10: Daniel Campanaro scored a season-high 11 goals and Camaron Bernardo recorded a season-high 16 saves to pace the host Trojans.

Sonora 20, Glendora 11: Zac Angulo scored seven goals and Kyle Bolor added 14 saves to lead the host Raiders, who led, 14-5 at halftime.

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