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Close Not Enough for Harvard-Westlake

Water polo: Wolverines push unbeaten Long Beach Wilson before falling, 11-7, in Division I final.


LONG BEACH — The score was as close as it's been all season for the Long Beach Wilson High water polo team.

Harvard-Westlake played tougher than any opponent the Bruins have seen and held Tony Azevedo, Wilson's All-American, to four goals.

But the result was the same as Wilson capped and undefeated season with an 11-7 victory in the Southern Section Division I final Wednesday night at Belmont Plaza pool in Long Beach.

It is the third consecutive section title for Wilson (29-0), and Coach Rick Azevedo, Tony's father, said they keep getting sweeter.

"An undefeated season does make a difference," the elder Azevedo said. "It's a nice touch. Every year it gets a little more special."

The Bruins used two crucial runs to keep the Wolverines (23-5) at bay. After Jason Malinsky scored early to put the Wolverines up, 1-0, Wilson closed the first quarter with a 4-0 run with Azevedo scoring twice.

Harvard-Westlake pulled to within 5-3 by halftime on goals by Bill Strickland and Malinsky, who had three goals. But Wilson, with the benefit of three consecutive 6-on-5 advantages, pulled ahead, 8-4, midway through the third quarter.

Nesmith led the Bruin scoring with five goals.

"They had a good game plan to stop Tony before he could drive," Rick Azevedo said. "But we saw today that nobody on this team is afraid to take a shot."

Peter Hudnut, Harvard-Westlake's All-American, had trouble getting the ball at the two-meter position, with two or three Bruins collapsing on him whenever the ball came near.

"We were having a little trouble down there," said Hudnut, who scored three goals--two from outside and one on a penalty shot.

The Wolverines pulled to within 10-6 on Hudnut's sidearm skip shot from 25 feet with 3:43 to play, but Azevedo answered 1:44 later.

"There were some critical times where if we put the ball in the goal, it changes the complexion of the game," Harvard-Westlake Coach Rich Corso said.

Wolverine goalie Joe Axelrad, who had 12 saves, shouldered the blame for the poor first quarter and was disturbed by a play in which he grabbed the floating goal and pulled it down when a Wilson shot was in the air, leading to a penalty-shot goal by Azevedo.

"The way I played in the beginning had a real negative effect on the team," Axelrad said. "That error on my part hurt the confidence of the team."

Harvard-Westlake, after four consecutive losses in the Division I quarterfinals from 1993-96, has advanced to the semifinals and the finals in the last two years.

"Any time you get to a final it's a great season," Corso said. "This bodes well for the younger kids and the future of this program."

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