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.

CIF Central: boys water polo brackets, articles and more

"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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