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CIF-SOUTHERN SECTION DIVISION IV WATER POLO FINALS: Cerritos falls to Righetti in another defensive tussle

By Loren Kopff

IRVINE-As the Cerritos boys water polo team was preparing to face Righetti in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division IV finals, the game plan was simple for head coach Paul Park. He stressed defense, and a lot of it against the division’s top ranked team.

That game plan work throughout the first 30 minutes of last Saturday afternoon’s match. But the Warriors scored three straight goals in a span of 41 seconds in the first overtime and doubled up Cerritos 8-4 at the William J. Woollett Aquatics Center. Cerritos was seeking its fourth boys title and first since 2008 while Righetti, which had fallen in the Division IV finals the past two seasons, took home the championship for the first time since 2002.

“It was a tough loss, but you know what, we played hard,” Park said. “We kept them to three goals [in regulation]. Honestly, I really couldn’t expect more from these guys.”

Cerritos had lost to the Warriors in the semifinals the past two seasons and by one tally. Last season, the Dons were the second ranked team, as was the case this season, while Righetti was third. But the Dons were up for anything early on and trailed 1-0 after the first period on a Lukas Sheckherd penalty shot at the 3:16 mark.

The Dons (21-11) tied the contest with 2:37 remaining in the half when senior Angel Alcala found sophomore Alex Alcala. The score would stay 1-1 at the half and already, the match was on pace to finish as one of the lowest scoring CIF-SS finals ever. Entering last Saturday, there had been 13 championship matches in which both teams combined to score fewer than 10 goals.

“I was definitely confident our offense would come around,” Park said. “But Righetti…that’s what they’re known for. They’ve been a defensive juggernaut all year. I don’t think they’ve let any team score double digits on them. I knew it would be a tough match. But for us, our focus was defense, defense, defense.”

Righetti regained the lead with 4:15 left in the third period on another Sheckherd goal but three minutes later, senior Dominick Nevarez tied it up. The Warriors would take a 3-2 lead with 10 seconds left in the stanza on a Nick Hurdle tally after Angel Alcala missed a potential goal with a man advantage.

After both teams missed numerous six-on-five chances in the fourth period, the Warriors were set to win in what would have been the second lowest combined scoring finals ever. But Angel Alcala scored with 51 seconds remaining in regulation, just 12 seconds after Righetti was called for their seventh exclusion.

But the Warriors (31-4) took the lead for good with 1:51 left in the first overtime when Terry Franklin scored after the Dons were called for their sixth of eight exclusions. Half a minute later, Justin Murillo made it 5-3 before Nevarez brought the Dons to within one with 70 seconds left in the first overtime.

Another penalty shot from Sheckherd 27 seconds later gave the Warriors that two-goal cushion again and Franklin iced the match with 1:32 left in the second overtime.

“In the end, I think they had a little bit of a deeper bench and we got a little bit tired in overtime,” Park said.

Cerritos, which fell to Righetti 12-8 back on Oct. 11, outshot the Warriors 23-19 but had two players foul out of the contest. With only four seniors on this season’s squad, the Dons will still be looking good to make a return trip to the finals next season, possibly against Righetti, which loses seven out of 17 members.

“We have a good group coming back,” Park said. “These guys like to work. So, we’ll always be working hard.”