IRVINE – Mater Dei's intensity for its CIF-SS Division 1 boys water polo semifinal against Corona del Mar already was high Wednesday night. But after the Sea Kings scored their first goal, the Monarchs received an extra jolt.
Corona del Mar's Armen Mavusi blew a kiss toward the Mater Dei goal in the middle of the first period after scoring on a sweep shot from center, one of water polo's versions of a slam dunk.
"When they gave us that kiss, we wanted to give it to them even more," Mater Dei junior Kent Inoue said. "We just executed all we could."
Mater Dei delivered best on defense, igniting a fierce counterattack that paced the top-seeded Monarchs to an 18-9 victory at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center. Mater Dei (30-0) erupted for seven counterattack goals, most of which started with strong defense.
Mater Dei's counterattack turned their 4-3 lead after the first period into a lopsided victory.
Inoue, a sharp-shooting attacker, netted three of his match-high seven goals off the counterattack.
Mater Dei junior goalie McQuin Baron anchored the defense with 15 saves, including three against Corona del Mar's man-advantage.
The Monarchs held fifth-seeded Corona del Mar (23-7) to a 2-for-8 effort with the extra attacker (Mater Dei went 3 for 5).
Mater Dei supported Baron with four first-half blocks by field players. Three of the field blocks came in the decisive second period, which the Monarchs won, 5-0.
"Defense always comes first with us," Baron said. "That's what we work on every day in practice."
The second-period surge gave Mater Dei a 9-3 lead at halftime.
The Monarchs' counterattack took many shapes in the second period.
Jon Walters scored on a counterattack off a turnover. Nicholas Silvers scored on a counterattack off his field block.
And James Walters scored after the Monarchs' successfully ran a gap defense on the perimeter. James Walters sprinted to offense after a save by Baron, who sent an outlet pass to Phillip Tran, who found James Walters.
Silvers scored twice in third and finished with a season-high four goals.
"They kept coming," Corona del Mar coach Barry O'Dea said of Mater Dei. "Their counter was really good tonight. McQuin is solid in the cage."
Mater Dei coach Chris Segesman said his squad thought it could exploit Corona del Mar's transition defense. He said the Monarchs also wanted to use the counterattack to push their shot-attempt totals on offense.
But both strategies were dependent on playing strong defense.
"The defense was tremendous in the second and third quarter," Segesman said. "They just locked it down."
At one point, Mater Dei scored eight consecutive goals to open a 12-3 lead in the third.
The Monarchs also shaded extra coverage to mark Corona del Mar's Reid Chase. The senior was coming off a four-goal effort against Newport Harbor in the quarterfinals but finished with two on Wednesday.
And for the second consecutive season, the Monarchs posted a lopsided victory in the semifinals. Mater Dei beat Loyola of Los Angeles, 19-5, last season in the semifinals before playing a second consecutive close final against El Toro.
According to water polo historian Bill Prichard, Mater Dei became the first team since El Segundo in 1955 and 1956 to post a combined winning margin of 23 goals for consecutive semifinal match.
"They shot really well tonight," O'Dea said of the Monarchs. "They're good."
O'Dea wasn't surprised to hear that the kiss fired up Mater Dei. Mavusi's score knotted the score, 1-1, with 4:11 left in the first period, which ended with the Monarchs leading, 4-3.
"I'm sure it did (fire up Mater Dei)," O'Dea said. "(But) that was our guys getting fired up, too. ... It's high school sports."
Mater Dei is now one victory away from becoming the first Southern Section team since Whittier in 1953 to claim consecutive championships with undefeated seasons. The Monarchs will take on Long Beach Wilson, a 6-5 winner against Loyola of Los Angeles in the first semifinal, in the Division 1 final Saturday at 7 p.m. at Woollett.
The Monarchs also went 31-0 last season to capture their second consecutive Division 1 title. They have won a Southern Section-record 78 consecutive matches overall.
James Walters helped pace Mater Dei's defense with four steals.
In the first semifinal, Jackson Kimbell scored two goals and Jake Becker made nine saves to lead second-seeded Long Beach Wilson (23-7). The Bruins won the Divison 2 title last season.
LONG BEACH WILSON 6, LOYOLA 5
Wilson 2 2 2 0 - 6
Loyola 3 0 1 1 - 5
Goal scorers: (LBW) Jake Davis 1; Zachary D'Sa 1; Maxwell Irving 1; Jackson Kimbell 2; Murphy Slater 1; (Loy) John Grover 1; Kruse Corbett 2; Chancellor Ramirez 2
Saves: Jake Becker (LBW) 9
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