The Harvard High water polo team enlisted the verbal support of six cheerleaders, a bleacher full of boisterous fans, a sword-brandishing mascot and about half of the football team for its Southern Section 2-A match against visiting La Serna on Tuesday.
But none of the Saracen supporters was as vocal as Harvard Coach Rich Corso. Behind cheers of "Go, Harvard," Corso hollered relentlessly for 90 minutes as Harvard drowned out La Serna, 9-7.
"That's been the characteristic of this team," Corso said. "They know they need intensity. You can feel the electricity on the bench."
The victory advanced sixth-ranked Harvard (24-5) to the semifinal round for the first time in history. The Saracens play San Marino on Friday at a site that will be determined today.
While Harvard remained enthusiastic, third-ranked La Serna (23-6) was reserved and casual.
"They came in and were kind of cocky in my mind," Corso said. "They were like 'Hey, we're No. 3 and who is this Harvard school?' They fell right into our trap."
La Serna held a 2-1 lead after one quarter and added another goal early in the second quarter.
Harvard, however, erupted for four goals in the second quarter to take the lead for good. Jed Simon and Peter Richards each scored within seconds of one another and Tim Pennington added two goals in the final minute of the half. Richards, who finished with three goals, lofted a pass to Pennington in front of the Lancers' net and Pennington slapped it past goalkeeper Mark Dixon for a 5-3 halftime lead.
"They acted like they were going to beat us just because they were ranked higher than us," said Pennington, who also scored three goals."
Harvard extended its lead to 6-3 on a goal by Damon Willick early in the third quarter before Ed Laurenson's second goal brought La Serna to within 6-5 with 4:32 to play. The teams traded goals until Richards secured the win with a goal with three seconds left.
Harvard goalkeeper Larry Bercutt, who stopped 18 shots, blocked six shots in the final period.