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Defense secures title No. 5 for Mater Dei
IRVINE – Mater Dei's boys water polo team arrived at the CIF-SS Division 1 final Saturday night with new haircuts that senior Matthew Cuozzo described as "trendy."
The top-seeded Monarchs ended the night with another new touch.
They raised all five fingers for a team photo after sprinting past second-seeded Long Beach Wilson in the second half for a 13-6 victory in front of an overflow crowd at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center.
Five stood for the number of consecutive section titles won by Mater Dei (31-0). The Monarchs have claimed the past three Division 1 crowns and won two Division 2 championship plaques before that.
But between the new looks, it was vintage Mater Dei water polo in the second half against Long Beach Wilson (23-8).
After the teams went to halftime tied, 5-5, the Monarchs unleashed their trademark, lock-down defense and along with their team-oriented offense. They outscored the Bruins, 8-1, in the final two periods.
"Defense was our No. 1 goal," Matthew Cuozzo said. "As long as we (played our) defense, we were going to win the game."
Goalie McQuin Baron made eight of his 14 saves in the second half to anchor Mater Dei's defense. The Bruins tied the score, 6-6, on a power-play goal with 2:34 left in the third after a transition exclusion against Mater Dei.
The Monarchs then held the Bruins scoreless for the final 9:34.
Kent Inoue snapped a 6-6 tie with a penalty shot goal with 1:34 left in the third. Jon Walters drew the penalty.
Walters' brother, James, set up the next strike, hustling to grab his own rebound and feeding Cuozzo for the goal and an 8-6 lead with 46 seconds left in the third.
James Walters finished with a game-high six steals and two assists.
Mater Dei won the fourth period, 5-0, behind a 3-for-3 effort on the man-advantage.
Cuozzo scored twice on the power play in the fourth period to finish with a game-high four goals. All six Mater Dei starters finished with at least one goal.
Jon Walters finished with three goals and drew four exclusions. The Bruins mostly played the powerful center one-on-one, with a quick crash defense when the ball went into 2 meters.
Mater Dei coach Chris Segesman credited the game plan but was confident his team could wear down the Bruins in the second half.
"We've never had a final that has been easy," he said. "Today, was no different. We blew it open a little bit in the fourth ... but it was a dogfight."
Mater Dei became the first section team since Whittier in 1953 to claim consecutive titles with undefeated seasons. The Monarchs also extended their section winning streak to 79 games.
"It takes a lot of hard work," Cuozzo said of going 31-0. "It gets in your head sometimes but you have to get through it."
Mater Dei finished 4 for 6 on the man-advantage; Long Beach Wilson went 2 for 3. Both teams were 1 for 1 on penalty shots.