By Steve Breazeale
When the South Coast League boys water polo scheduled was issued this season, Dana Hills and San Clemente had their sights set on each other from the get go. Dana Hills, the reigning league champion, and the Tritons figured it would be a two-horse race between the programs come season’s end.
On Oct. 14, Dana Hills took the early lead in the standings following an 11-8 victory over San Clemente on the road, putting them in the driver’s seat for a third consecutive title.
The Dolphins (9-8, 4-0) got a balanced scoring effort from their roster and honed in defensively on San Clemente senior Chase Hamming early. The Dolphins took a 4-2 lead into the second following two goals from senior Marko Asic and one goal each from junior Bennett Williams and senior Nick Jansen. Hamming kept the Tritons afloat in the quarter by scoring two goals.
The Tritons (10-11, 1-1) came out with a faster pace in the second quarter, led by the efforts of Hamming. He opened the quarter with a steal and a breakaway goal, then scored two unanswered goals, one of which was a penalty shot. Hamming’s three-score burst put the Tritons on top momentarily, but Dana Hills tied things up on another goal from Jansen just before the half.
In the second half, the Dolphins defense went back to the game plan of routinely double teaming Hamming, forcing the Tritons offense to come from somewhere else.
Dana Hills freshman Kai Hanson scored two goals and Williams added another to build an 8-6 lead in the third.
In the fourth quarter, Hamming scored after making a nice drive to the Dolphins’ back post. Tritons senior Spencer Perkins lobbed a well-timed pass to Hamming, who buried the shot to cut Dana Hills’ lead to 9-8. But back to back goals from Williams and Asic ended the threat and the scoring.
Hamming finished the night with a game-high seven goals. Williams and Asic each scored three for Dana Hills.
The win gave the Dolphins two important road wins on the season. The first came in a 13-9 win over El Toro on Sept. 30.
“This may not have been our best effort but to go to El Toro and to San Clemente and come up with wins, that’s huge. That’s what we needed to do looking at the season,” Dana Hills head coach Matt Rosa said.
Despite the loss, San Clemente head coach Marc Parker drew some positives from his team’s match with the Dolphins. The Tritons have been trying to manage their turnover ratio all season and only had 11 giveaways to Dana Hills, down from their season average of 15. San Clemente also has plenty of league games remaining on their schedule, including two games against El Toro and one final game against Tesoro and the Dolphins.
“We’re going to have to fight. We’ve still got El Toro and Tesoro, which is a tough match and hopefully regroup and maybe give (Dana Hills) a run in that last game. It’s a coin flip,” Parker said.