Early flurry keeps La Habra’s playoff hopes alive
by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
A quick start fueled the La Habra water polo team to a 13-6 victory over visiting city rival Sonora, Tuesday afternoon at La Habra High.
The Highlanders jumped ahead 4-0 and cruised to victory, keeping their playoff hopes alive in the process.
However, La Habra (13-13, 5-4) remained in fourth place in the Freeway League standings and a game behind both Sunny Hills and Buena Park. The Highlanders travel to Buena Park to close out the season, Thursday afternoon.
“I think Sonora’s somewhat lack of defense almost made things confusing at times for my guys where they were open at times they weren’t expecting to be,” said David Edwards, La Habra head coach. “It was a little chaotic for me, I didn’t like that, but the boys recognized their opportunities and took advantage of mistakes.”
Sean Pedersen led a widespread La Habra offensive attack with three goals, while four other Highlanders scored two goals each.
Richard Atnip led the way for the Raiders, scoring all three of his team’s second half goals. Dominik Kus had a pair of goals in the second quarter.
The scoring came early for La Habra as Mike Weir put the Highlanders on the board 10 seconds into the first quarter by lofting a long-distance shot over the head of Sonora goalkeeper Nick Angulo.
Within the next two minutes, the Highlanders led 3-0 on goals by Maverick Chen and Pedersen.
“I wanted to see them come out strong and fast, we have a tendency to take the first quarter to warm up,” Edwards said. “They did come out fast, but I think overall we played an okay game. My guys played good defense the entire way.”
Art Martinez scored Sonora’s lone first-quarter goal from the two-meter mark.
The teams evened out in the second quarter as Kus put two more shots in for Sonora from inside, but La Habra led 7-3 at half.
“Our gameplan was to get the ball inside to the two-meter man and we didn’t do it enough,” said Jim Sprague, Sonora coach. “We got the ball down there maybe four or five times and got three goals out of it. I thought we did a good job in the third quarter, but we didn’t do it in the first quarter and that’s been our problem all year, locating the two-meter guard and playing accordingly.”
The Raiders (6-20, 1-8) kept the deficit at four thanks to two Atnip goals, but the Highlanders pulled away toward the end of the third quarter when Darin Moore and Pedersen scored within a 36-second span.
The duo upped the lead to 13-5 in the fourth quarter before Atnip struck again with just under two minutes to play.
“[Richard] has been our leader all along,” Sprague said. “Our big guys don’t swim well sometimes, but we don’t have a choice, so Richard tries to go down low, but he’s so small, he takes a pounding. He’s still the best driver we have.”
Weir, Chen, Moore and Jake Wybaczynsky each scored twice for the Highlanders.
Sonora will finish the regular season with a matchup against Sunny Hills, Thursday afternoon at Sonora.
“A start without a disaster is what we’re looking for,” Sprague said. “It’s plagued us all season long, but there’s no reason for it. We’re hoping to keep it close early.”
La Habra enters a showdown at Buena Park on Thursday afternoon. A win by the Highlanders would tie them with Buena Park for third place in the Freeway League.
“It was a good game overall, I’m proud of the guys, but I don’t think it prepared us for Thursday as much as I wanted,” Edwards said. “This being a chaotic game, I don’t think it really accomplished that, so we’re going to have to work hard in practice tomorrow.”