After his team had won five matches in three days--including victories Saturday over powers Newport Harbor and Corona del Mar high schools--Coach Jim Sprague was ready to assess the Sunny Hills water polo team.
"We're lucky," Sprague said after Sunny Hills wrapped up the South Coast Invitational title with an 8-7 victory over Corona del Mar at Newport Harbor High School.
"We got some breaks today. Both games could have gone either way. We just got tough enough at the right time."
The right time was in the fourth quarter. Corona del Mar, which once trailed, 5-2, tied the score at 7-7 on Derek Dundas' goal with 4:10 remaining and appeared to have the momentum. But 10 seconds later, Jin Chang slipped a shot past the reach of Jim Wagner, the Sea Kings' outstanding goalie.
Corona del Mar missed its last chance when, with a man advantage, Chris Oeding's shot with 17 seconds remaining sailed over the goal.
"We didn't play smart," said Sea King Coach John Vargas. "We made some crucial errors which cost us. I think we're ahead of where I'd thought we'd be right now, but we've got a lot to improve upon."
Wagner had 15 saves, including 2 from short range in the final minute of the first half that kept the Sea Kings close.
"Wagner must walk on water," Sprague said. "Any time we play a team with a guy like that in the cage, we're in for a hard time."
Sunny Hills (8-0) has an ace of its own, Jose Santiago, who scored four goals in the title game. Two of those, however, were on four-meter penalty shots. Three of the Lancers' eight goals in the final came via penalties.
Brad Jacobsen and Hagen Grantham each had two goals for Corona del Mar (6-1).
In the third-place match, Steve Madigan, Bob Gifford and Jason Balinger scored two goals each to lead Newport Harbor (6-1) to an 8-5 victory over Costa Mesa (8-3). Mike Kennedy and Shane Coons each scored twice for Costa Mesa.
Sunny Hills beat Newport Harbor in the semifinals, 12-9, after trailing, 7-6. Corona del Mar beat Costa Mesa, 12-3, in the other semifinal.