The South Pasadena High boys varsity water polo team lived to fight another day in the CIF Southern Section Division 3 playoffs after an easy 11-6 win over the visiting Newbury Park Panthers on Tuesday.
By the score, one can assume it was a close contest — but it wasn’t. And the Newbury Park parents and fans in attendance at the South Pasadena High School Aquatics Center showed their frustrations.
Strong play by junior goalkeeper Liam Marcus and sophomore Owen Imasaki led the Tigers to victory. Imasaki finished the day with six goals and Marcus had a handful of saves.
Imasaki said it’s fun to be playing in the playoffs.
“It’s very exciting … It’s big games — five big games. I’m just excited right now because we won our first game — going to play Schurr on Thursday,” Imasaki said, without knowing for sure if Schurr beat Alta Loma in a game that was going on at the same time.
The Tigers led 2-0 after the first quarter and 4-0 at halftime. By the end of the third quarter, South Pasadena led 8-1, and Newbury Park was unable to score until about halfway through the third.
South Pas coach Michael Gonzales, in his seventh season with the team, pulled his starters with a minute and a half remaining in the game. The score was 11-3 at that point but Newbury Park poured in three straight goals to lower the Tigers’ margin of victory.
“Winning this first round is awesome,” Gonzales said. “I think it’s a testament to a lot of growing up … we really worked our tail off to get ourselves a much higher seed going into this so that we can have a favorable first round matchup, so it’s big.”
South Pasadena improved its overall record to 18-10 after the win, having already won its second straight Rio Hondo League title after going undefeated against league opponents.
“The back-to-back league titles are huge. I think one of the biggest things we’ve tried to stress from a coaching standpoint is to develop a culture of consistency,” Gonzales said. “The Rio Hondo League has been won, I think amongst three or four different schools over the last five years … so to finally start holding it down and develop that consistency and that culture is fantastic.”
The Rio Hondo League title has been in the hands of La Canada three times, Temple City once dating back to 2017, and South Pasadena three times. The Tigers last won the league in the 2015 season.
Going into the contest with Newbury Park, the Tigers were ranked ninth by the California Interscholastic Federation’s Southern Section.
Junior Anthony Felix said the win against Newbury Park was great for the team because it was knocked out of the playoffs last year in their first playoffs since going back up to Division 3.
“The mindset is that we’re trying to do one thing this season — win, so we’re going to have to go up against anyone that is in our way. It’s out for blood and we’re going to have to face it and prepare for it,” Felix said.
The Tigers were riding a three-game winning streak as they faced No. 8-ranked Schurr on Thursday at 5 p.m. The Tigers lost 12-8 on Oct. 25 in their last meeting.
Gonzales felt confident facing Schurr again.
“It’s nice to play against a familiar opponent. We laid an egg a couple of weeks ago [against Schurr] — we really did not play a good game,” Gonzales said. “I felt like I coached a horrible game in that game as well. We’ll obviously be much more prepared going into it this time around. … We’ll be excited to have a second [chance].”
But beating Schurr wasn’t the only obstacle the Tigers had to face. They were playing their “home” game at Temple City High’s pool.
According to South Pasadena’s Athletic Director Anthony Chan, Schurr requested to move the location because the pool at South Pas is an inch or two short of playoff regulations. The playoff bulletin on the CIF Southern Section website states that a pool’s depth can be 5 ½ feet as long as the depth goes to 6 ½ feet, and Chan said the South Pas pool reaches only 6 feet, 4 inches deep. Because of this, South Pasadena agreed to the change.
“It’s a bummer for sure not to play at our own home pool, but the request to play in big water with officials on both sides is totally legitimate, especially for a second-round match as competitive as ours,” Gonzales said. “We certainly know how to play in big water and prepared accordingly.”