CORONA DEL MAR — The match could not have started much better for the Corona del Mar High boys' water polo team.
The Sea Kings scored the first two goals and saw visiting Mater Dei's starting center defender foul out. They even allowed themselves to have a bit of swagger.
After CdM senior defender Colby Watson field blocked a shot near the end of the quarter, he waved his index finger at the Monarchs like former NBA center Dikembe Mutombo used to do after blocking a shot.
"The Mutombo finger wag," Watson confirmed after the game. "I was a little fired up in the first quarter. I mean, we all were. It felt great to have that 2-0 lead."
What the Sea Kings were not able to do, however, was put together a big enough four-quarter effort to shock the Monarchs.
Mater Dei junior Kent Inoue matched a season-high with five goals as the visitors pulled away in the second half to win the nonleague game, 13-5, at CdM.
Senior Phillip Tran added a season-high four goals for Mater Dei (15-0), the two-time defending CIF Southern Section Division 1 champion and again top-ranked this year. The Monarchs won their Southern Section-record 63rd straight match.
Corona del Mar (11-6), ranked No. 6 in Division 1, had a sound strategy for Saturday's match. The Sea Kings elected to use a heavy drop on Mater Dei senior center Jon Walters, the Monarchs' leading scorer who scored just once Saturday. But that opened up shots for Walters' teammates.
"They left Kent Inoue shooting from four or five meters," Mater Dei Coach Chris Segesman said. "At the end of the day, that's tough to defend. So it's pick your poison, I guess. Kent wasn't shooting well in the first quarter, we went down 2-0, then Kent started shooting his shots and started flowing. It changed the whole momentum of the game.
"I thought we were very impatient in the first quarter with that drop, forcing shots. As the second quarter came, we were a lot more patient and getting the right looks. Tran's a great shooter from the 4-5 side, and he put away some big shots for us. Jon's presence creates so much attention ... you have to give him that much attention. It was almost the identical drop Newport ran on us in the [South Coast Tournament] finals."
CdM did have a great start. Senior Jack Harryman buried the game's first goal late in the first quarter, before senior Reid Chase made a penalty shot with 47 seconds left in the quarter. On the play Mater Dei senior Matt Cuozzo was issued a pair of exclusions, his second and third of the game, so he fouled out.
Senior Jake Wyatt's six-on-five strike from the right wing gave the Sea Kings a 3-1 advantage with 5:43 left in the second quarter. But, from there, Mater Dei scored 10 unanswered goals. The run lasted well into the fourth quarter.
By the time Chase scored on a six-on-five with 3:59 left in the game, Mater Dei was up big, 11-4.
"I think our guys got some confidence there in the first half," said CdM Coach Barry O'Dea, whose team trailed, 5-3, at halftime. "They saw that they can get out there and do well against what is supposed to be the best team in the state. A little letdown in the third [quarter]. We didn't move as well on defense like we did in the first half, and that made a big difference. I think at the end of the day, we learned something, that we have to keep our focus and complete our jobs through four quarters. It was good for us."
James Walters had two goals and three steals for Mater Dei, and junior goalie McQuin Baron had a big game with 12 saves, including one on a penalty shot. The Walters brothers are two of seven Newport-Mesa residents on Mater Dei, a list that also includes Nick Silvers, Jeff O'Brien, Neil LeVecke, Connor Talleur and Carter Yonkers.
Segesman highlighted the play of sophomore Nick Lavayen and senior Stig Terrebonne, who stepped up defensively in Cuozzo's absence.
"It's tough to get nervous with these guys because they have so much experience," Segesman said. "Then again, they have to learn not to put themselves down in 2-0 situations. We go down 2-0 to Newport, 2-0 in this game, you can't be in that situation. It's going to bite us someday ... if a team beats us, they beat us. We're here to compete. But if we go down 2-0 in enough games, we're not going to be able to recover."
Chase had two goals and two steals for CdM, and Richie Barden also scored. Senior keeper Patrick McKenzie also had a strong game with 10 saves, including one on a penalty shot.
Centers Kyle Trush, Ty Hack and Armen Mavusi each drew at least one exclusion for CdM, which went three for eight on the power play. Mater Dei was three for six.
Despite the final result, Watson said the experience the Sea Kings gained in Saturday's match could be invaluable down the road. It was the first time the powerhouses had played in a nonleague game since 2009.
"They're a pretty good team, but to see that first half we played kind of lifted our spirits a little bit," Watson said. "We know that if we put together a full game against those guys, the score will be a lot different in the end than it was this game. If we keep up that intensity and level of play we carried in the first quarter throughout the whole four quarters, it's going to be a whole different ballgame ... I think we'll be ready for them if we meet up with them again."