It was a matchup between two of the area’s elite boys’ water polo programs: San Marino High and Pasadena Polytechnic.
Both ranked in the top 10 of CIF Southern Section Division III polls, the Titans went on the road to face the Panthers on Sept. 12.
San Marino was ahead at the break, but unraveled a bit in the second half as Poly took control for a 14-12 win in nonleague play.
“Offensively, I think we lost our momentum in the second half,” San Marino coach Robert Zirovich said. “We had some open shots, they didn’t fall. We had some shots we should have made, they were right there, and I think that affected us emotionally. We lost a little bit of momentum and that was the difference maker.”
It was the first defeat of the season for the Titans, which was ranked No. 8 in the division ahead of the matchup and currently ranked No. 7 in the recent poll.
“It was definitely a fun game to be a part of and a strong opponent,” Poly coach Sean Grab said. “[San Marino] made our lives really, really hard just with their talent and, I think, their effort.”
San Marino (4-1) led Pasadena Poly 8-7 at halftime. The Panthers, then ranked No. 6 in the division and currently in the same spot in the updated polls, tied the score 2:16 into the third when Theo Kratter, who led the hosts with five goals, stole an errant Titan pass up top and got out on a breakaway to score. With 3:42 left, Roy Otamura gave the Panthers the lead with a goal in transition before the Titan defense was fully in place. With 2:19 left, Teddy Roundtree-Shtulman tallied another goal for the hosts. With 1:15 left, Titan Howard Huang ended a three-goal outburst in the period with a skip shot into the back of the cage. However, the Panthers got one more goal with 11 seconds to go from Kratter, with San Marino down a swimmer due to an exclusion, to make it 11-9 going into the final period.
Kratter extended the advantage 57 seconds into the fourth before Titan Daniel Chen unleashed a powerful shot from distance for a goal. However, Pasadena Poly put in the next two goals for a four-goal cushion with 1:56 remaining. In the final minutes San Marino began leaving players in offensive positions while defending at the other side of the pool in an attempt to come back. This yielded a goal from Diego Joaquin Garcia off an assist by Chen with 1:21 to go. Garcia scored again with 13 seconds left to set the final margin off an assist by freshman Nathan Chan, who had stolen the ball from the hosts.
“We had the lead early. We controlled the game throughout the [first half],” Chen said. “In the second half we kept letting the other team score off of our mistakes and that was what hurt us the most.”
Huang and Garcia shared team honors with four goals apiece. The freshman Chan had two goals. Chen and Kevin Benitez each scored one goal.
The first quarter was a back-and-forth affair. Kratter opened the scoring with a touch shot from distance 49 seconds in. San Marino tied it the next time down the pool with a goal from Benitez assisted by Garcia. The Titans pulled ahead for the first time with 5:18 remaining on a skip shot by Huang, set up by a pass from Garcia in transition after he made a steal.
The Panthers tied the score at 2-2 with 4:39 to go, only to see the Titans pull ahead again 50 seconds later on a goal from middle distance by freshman Chan on the left side. Twelve seconds later, the hosts tied the score again, but only briefly, as Garcia scored off a pass from junior Nathan Chan nine seconds later. With the Titans a man down due to an exclusion, Poly drew even once more with 2:54 remaining. In the final minute Garcia scored on a shot from distance that skipped off the water twice before going in, only to see the hosts score with 20 seconds left, leaving the teams knotted at 5-5 after the opening period.
Huang scored the first two goals of the second quarter to pull ahead by two goals with 2:55 to go. Roundtree-Shtulman flicked a shot over his shoulder 10 seconds later for a goal. With 1:15 remaining, the freshman Chan scored from a tight angle on the left side of the pool. The final goal of the half came from Roundtree-Shtulman on a backhand shot with 44 seconds to go.
“I’d love to see them again,” Zirovich said of the Panthers after the battle of two of the top teams in the division.
First published in the Sept. 21 issue of the San Marino Tribune