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CIF-SOUTHERN SECTION DIVISION 4 BOYS WATER POLO PLAYOFFS: Cerritos puts Sonora away early, advances to semifinals against division’s top team

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

It was only four years ago that the Cerritos High boys water polo team advanced to the CIF-Southern Section divisional finals. Since then, the Dons have had three straight losing seasons, advancing to the second round of the playoffs twice and losing in the first round once.

But Cerritos turned it around this season and following its 16-9 victory over Sonora High this past Saturday afternoon, the fourth-ranked Dons (18-11) are now in the Division 4 semifinals against top-ranked Capistrano Valley High, where they eventually lost 12-9.

“It’s been a good season,” said Cerritos head coach Paul Park. “We started off with a little bit of a roller coaster, but we settled in and the kids have been playing well. I’m good with the effort they’ve been giving.”

The Dons were trailing the Raiders 2-1 when junior Ethan Osario scored the first of five straight goals with 5:10 remaining in the first period. In the final 4:43 of the period, sophomore Brian Huynh scored twice off turnovers around a goal from senior Michael Reyes.

Within the first 30 seconds of the second period, senior Joey Hurtado scored off another turnover to make it a 6-2 contest. He would score twice more before halftime and finished the game with half a dozen goals.

Although Sonora outshot the Dons 17-12 in the first half with senior goalie Ethan Gutierrez picking up seven saves, Cerritos forced 10 turnovers and ended the first half up 10-4.

In just one half of action, the game was already different from the Sept. 14 meeting between the two when Cerritos edged the Raiders 10-9 in overtime in the Hank Vellekamp Tournament hosted by Servite High.

“They were leading us the entire game and we tied it in the fourth quarter, then we beat them in overtime,” Park said. “Joey Hurtado, our two-meter man, really stepped up today. He only had two goals in the game before and today he had six. That was the difference [today].”

Reyes began the second half with his second goal and after the Raiders make it 11-5 with 5:10 left in the third period, Cerritos put the game out of reach with three straight tallies, two by Hurtado and one by Huynh. Hurtado and Reyes would cap off the Cerritos scoring in the fourth as the Dons finished the contest with 25 shots while the Raiders had 31. But again, it was the Cerritos defense that stepped up, forcing 19 turnovers.

“We just counter-balled today,” Park said. “That is our identity as a team, is defense and counter. If we can do that, we’re going to do well. That’s our identity.”