Laguna Beach edged in semifinals


High school water polo.

IRVINE – When Laguna Beach's playoff magic finally ran out Wednesday night, Breakers boys water polo coach Ethan Damato gathered his players poolside and delivered a message with tears building in his eyes.

"I'm proud of what our seniors did this year as a group, and our younger guys stepping up, and I just wanted to make sure they knew that," Damato said.

Laguna Beach's bid to reach a third consecutive CIF-Southern Section final was derailed by a sharper Santa Barbara. The Dons took a lead late in the first period and never relinquished it en route to a 9-7 victory in the Division 2 semifinals at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center.

Laguna Beach (21-10) captured Division 3 titles in 2011 and 2010 behind the left arm of Nolan McConnell and goalie Erik Henrikson. The Breakers made the move to Division 2 this season and continued to flourish behind the play of seniors Maxx McCarter (goalie), Caleb Scott, Camron Hauer and Riley Thomas, and promising sophomore Jack Dodson.

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"No one really thought that we could do it without (McConnell) and without (Henrikson)," Thomas said. "We definitely picked it up to another level."

The third-seeded Breakers met their match against the No. 2 seeded Dons (22-8), transplants from Division 1.

Santa Barbara's balanced and diversified attack produced seven goals in the first half. Cristian Bridley scored twice from center. The Dons converted 2 of 3 chances on the man-advantage.

Santa Barbara led, 7-4, at halftime and then held off Laguna Beach.

The Breakers twice had man-advantage chances in the second half to trim their deficit to one but couldn't convert. Laguna Beach finished 2 for 8 with the extra attacker.

Santa Barbara's power-play defense successfully pressed the high-scoring Thomas, who scored two even-strength goals.

"I thought our six-on-five wasn't very sharp," Damato said. "In a game like this, with all these fans, there's a lot of nerves. I thought (Santa Barbara) played great five-on-six."

Santa Barbara goalie Gio Goggia sealed the victory with three saves in the final 1:30, including a stop with 1:26 left on Hauer, who broke free on a drive in front of the net.

Santa Barbara plays Agoura, an 8-6 winner against Damien of La Verne, in the finals Saturday at 2:45 p.m. at Woollett.

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