Grant Harris leads comeback, Highlanders force one-game playoff
by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
With an emphatic come-from-behind 11-8 win, the La Habra water polo team kept its quest for a guaranteed playoff spot alive, defeating Buena Park to force a tie between the two teams for third place in the Freeway League, Thursday afternoon at Buena Park High.
The two teams will face off again tomorrow afternoon at Troy High, with the winner taking the third and final guaranteed playoff spot from the Freeway League.
While Sean Pedersen’s scoring kept the Highlanders in the game through three quarters, it was Grant Harris who stepped in during the fourth quarter, scoring five consecutive goals to give La Habra a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
The Highlanders trailed 7-4 heading into the fourth quarter.
“I didn’t want to lose here today,” Harris said. “I just tried to turn it on a bit more and put my shots away. I’d been missing a lot lately, so I knew I had to get my mind right and get it done.”
Harris put La Habra ahead for the first time with 1:03 remaining in the fourth quarter as La Habra had a man-advantage, which brought an emphatic fist pump from David Edwards, La Habra’s head coach.
Early in the fourth quarter, Edwards ordered his team to press the Coyotes around the perimeter, which hindered Buena Park’s ability to move the ball around.
On the offensive side, La Habra (14-13, 6-4) earned four crucial 6-on-5 advantages, all of which led to scores.
“When you’re down three goals, you have a couple choices in terms of how to get back into the game,” Edwards said. “We could have tried to send guys down early hoping to get counterattack goals, but that doesn’t work so well in small pools. We shut down their good ball movement and even off the press, we did a great job helping on the set and that helped us through. It turned the game around for us. Today we made the right decisions.”
After falling behind 2-1 after the first quarter, Buena Park (8-14, 6-4) turned the tides in the second, shutting down the Highlanders offensively as Macklin Magdaleno scored twice and Andy Kim scored two of his five goals to take a 5-2 advantage into halftime.
Of the Coyotes’ five goals, four of them were scored while Buena Park had the 6-on-5 advantage.
Pedersen’s hard work at the two-meter position aided in keeping the deficit at three goals heading into the fourth quarter. The senior had scored all four of La Habra’s goals through the first three quarters.
“Sean continues to struggle a bit at set, he’s never been a set player and has had to play that position because we have no one else to turn to,” Edwards said. “He continues to fight and will get goals, just not as many as we’d like, but we need other outside shooters to step up, especially on 6-on-5 advantages.”
Two minutes into the fourth quarter, La Habra started to move. Mike Weir and Harris scored on the man advantage.
Harris then hit the upper left corner on an outside shot to tie the game at 7-7.
However, 18 seconds later, Kim put the Coyotes back on top with his fifth goal.
But Harris wasn’t done yet, the senior scored back-to-back goals from the left side on the man advantage to put La Habra ahead for good.
“They have always been a second half team as far as where their fight comes in,” Edwards said of his team. “I’ve always been impressed with how they fight back even when we’re in a game that we’ll end up losing, they’ll fight until the end. I think we came out strong in the first half, we just couldn’t hit our shots and that’s where our struggles are. The first quarter is the question.”
Maverick Chen closed out the scoring with a goal as time expired.
The win by La Habra ties both teams for third place in the Freeway League, meaning a showdown will take place tomorrow at 3:15 p.m. at Troy High, with the winner getting the guaranteed playoff spot.
“We didn’t put our shots away in the first half today,” Harris said. “If we do that throughout the game tomorrow, I think we could do even better than we did today.”