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South Bay League title is Hilltop's to win Phillip Brents | Fri, Oct 29 2010 12:15 AM

The sport of boys water polo has escaped realignment within the Metro Conference the past few years, and it’s proven to be a good thing for the competitive balance within the six-team South Bay League.

Hilltop is in line to win no worse than a share of a third consecutive South Bay League championship title after defeating the Mater Dei Catholic Crusaders, 12-9, Tuesday afternoon at the Parkway Plunge. Last year, the Lancers shared the league banner with Mater Dei and Mar Vista in a tri-championship. Two years ago, Hilltop and Mar Vista were co-champions.

The picture is pretty clear: It’s been a competitive mix at the top since the conference split into two leagues — Mesa League and South Bay League — in 2004.

Tuesday’s game lived up to that tradition. Mater Dei, which needed to win to forge a possible co-championship this year, led by two goals, 3-1, after the first quarter. The teams were tied 5-5 at halftime and 7-7 until Hilltop’s Juan Ontiveros scored on a five-meter penalty shot with 18 seconds to go in the third quarter.

The score remained close until midway through the final quarter when the Lancers’ Luis Ontiveros scored three consecutive goals — all on hustle — to expand a tenuous 9-8 lead.

“Give credit to Mater Dei — they came to play today,” Hilltop coach John Salts said. “Our guys also came to play.”

The result was a back-and-forth match-up that was in doubt until the final stages of the game.

Tuesday’s win gave the Lancers a perfect 7-0 South Bay League record with three league games remaining. The Crusaders, meanwhile, dropped to 5-2 in league play, also with three league games left on their regular season schedule.

Mater Dei has defeated Mar Vista twice this season — both times by one goal, including once in overtime — to leave the Mariners in third place. Hilltop defeated Mar Vista, 9-5, on Oct. 14, to move three full games in front of Mar Vista with Tuesday’s win.

Hilltop, which was set to host Olympian on Thursday and closes out regular season play with games next week against Mar Vista and Castle Park, needs two victories in its final three games to win this season’s championship outright.

The Lancers last won single rights to a league title in 1987 before sharing the 1993 championship with Bonita Vista.

In other words, it’s been a long time coming.

The Lancers topped the Crusaders, 10-2, in the teams’ first-round match-up on Oct. 7. But there was nothing close to resembling a rout in Tuesday’s rematch.

“The first game we out-swam them — they were dead by the fourth quarter,” Salts said. “This time we played their game. They (the Crusaders) wanted to slow it down to pace it out for them.”

It worked for the better part of the game. Ivan Chavez and Jose Martinez each scored six-on-five goals to give Mater Dei a two-goal lead to play with early on. After Tanner Franklin scored to halve the deficit for the Lancers, the Crusaders almost immediately responded with a goal by Alec Figy to restore their two-goal advantage.

Another Franklin goal trimmed the Crusader lead to 3-2 but once again, the visitors responded — this time by Chavez  — to maintain their two-goal advantage. A pair of goals by Rodrigo Perez tied the game for Hilltop and the Lancers then took a brief one-goal lead  with 1:34 left in the first half when Franklin scored off his own half-tank steal.

But Mater Dei was not finished, frustrating the hosts once more as Andrew Thien scored to tie the game 12 seconds before halftime. The Crusaders then got the jump goal in the second half as Raymond Lugo scored just 32 seconds into the third quarter.

6-5 Mater Dei.

Franklin had three goals at the first half for Hilltop but would be held scoreless in the second half. It was up to his teammates to carry the remainder of the offensive load on their shoulders and they responded. But it would take a lot of heart and determination — and a spirited rally — to do so.

Ryan Wertz tied the game at 6-6 for the Lancers, only to have Mater Dei go back in front, 7-6, on Chavez’s third goal of the game.

Two five-meter penalty shots by Juan Ontiveros proved to be the turning point in the game. Ontiveros’ first five-meter shot tied the game at 7-7 with 2:46 to play in the third quarter. Hilltop then got a bonus when the Crusaders were called for a procedural violation with 18 seconds remaining in the quarter, giving the Lancers another penalty shot.

Ontiveros did not miss to give the hosts an 8-7 lead.

Hilltop was then able to do something it had been unable to do all game long — take a pivotal two-goal lead — when Luis Ontiveros scored on a back-hand shot to push his team in front 9-7 with 4:47 left in the game.

Luis Ontiveros was the catalyst of the Lancer win with four goals in the final quarter — all off second effort. After MDC’s Martinez narrowed the score to 9-8, Ontiveros whipped off a quick turnaround shot to make it 10-8. He then scored on a deceiving turnaround lob shot to increase the Hilltop lead to 11-8 and tipped in a rebound shot with 1:46 to play to make the score 12-8.

Figy scored his second goal of the game with 1:05 left but the Lancers’ three-goal margin stood for the rest of the contest.

“Team work is still a strong point of this year’s team,” Salts said. “We had 18 guys who participated in several off-season programs. I think the off-season training is the difference this year. Our guys had a goal from the first practice to win the league — they wanted to prove they were good and could do this. This team knew it could come back in this game. They knew their ability. I’m very proud of my guys and I’m also proud of Mater Dei for the game they played against us. Even though we didn’t play at our best, we found a way to win.”

The mark of champions, Salts might want to add.

But it’s not over quite yet. The road to the Division II playoffs still needs to be paved by at least two more wins.

“We’re treating every game from now on as if it’s a championship game,” said the HHS coach, whose team turned around and defeated Oceanside, 16-0, in a non-league game on Wednesday.

In the latest game, each Ontiveros brother had three goals as the Lancers improved to 12-7. Five other players each scored two goals: Ryan Kennedy, Franklin, Leo Perez, Ricardo Montes and Rodrigo Perez. Lizarraga (eight saves) and Stuart Sokil (four saves) shared the goaltending shutout.

Wet shots
Luis Ontiveros led Hilltop with four goals in Tuesday’s game, followed by Franklin with three goals, Juan Ontiveros and Rodrigo Perez with two goals and Wertz with one goal.

Chavez led Mater Dei with three goals while Figy and Martinez each scored twice and Thien and Lugo each scored once.

Jorge Lizarraga played the entire game between the pipes for Hilltop, making seven saves. Mark Laturno was credited with eight saves for the Crusaders. Both netminders came up with a couple point-blanks stops to keep their respective teams in the game at critical junctures of the contest.

Martinez had three goals in MDC’s 6-5 win against Mar Vista on Oct. 21 and led the Crusaders with five goals in a 16-1 victory against Olympian on Oct. 14. Chavez also had four goals in the Oct. 14 victory.

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