WALNUT — Stop the press, the Glendale High boys’ water polo team is heading to the finals.
Inland Valley champion Riverside Poly found the first task impossible, which made the latter a reality for the top-seeded Nitros, who qualified to the program’s first-ever championship match by defeating the Bears, 14-7, at Wednesday evening’s CIF Southern Section Division V semifinal at Mt. San Antonio College.
With the win, Pacific League champion Glendale (21-5) advanced to Saturday’s divisional final at Irvine’s William Woollett Jr. Aquatic Center at 5:30 p.m. versus another Poly, this the third seed from Pasadena (25-2), which defeated La Serna, 11-9, to punch its ticket.
“There’s no secret that we run a press defense,” said Glendale Coach Forest Holbrook, whose team forced 21 turnovers. “After the first quarter, when we tied at 2, I told the guys we had to get back to playing the press and playing defense and we did that. After that, what did they score, five goals?”
Perhaps the best surge from Poly (18-11) came in the third quarter, with the Nitros up, 6-3.
The Bears forced turnovers on four of Glendale’s first six possessions and pulled within a score on two goals, the latter from senior Matthew Fatten set up on a kickout that brought Poly within 6-5 with 3:48 remaining.
While the Nitros’ offense seemed to stall, its defense fought back, beginning when sophomore Artak Arzumanyan (three goals) picked off a mid-pool pass and sprinted toward the goal before passing to teammate Arman Momdzhyan, who fed Manuk Piloyan for a goal with 2:59 remaining.
Piloyan’s score was the first of three for the sophomore, all set up via Bears turnovers.
Piloyan scored through a double team at the 2:22 mark and then deked defender Zachary Ritter with 59 seconds left for a crushing goal that gave Glendale a 9-5 advantage at the end of the third.
“I thought about moments like this,” Piloyan said of his motivation to become eligible to play after missing a big portion of the season with grade issues. “It feels really, really good to get back and help.”
Piloyan led the Nitros with five goals and was followed by senior David Papazian, who scored four goals and netted a critical goal with 5:10 left in the fourth off an assist from Piloyan that gave Glendale a 10-6 advantage.
Poly never pulled any closer than down four goals after Papazian’s goal.
“We were down early in the first by a goal and that’s when we realized we had to step it up,” said Glendale goaltender David Tiraturyan, who finished with nine saves.
Poly led, 1-0, and 2-1 in the first quarter before Arzumanyan tied the game at the end of the first.
The Bears then opened with a score before the Nitros countered with four straight goals, the last on a shot from Papazian with 1:34 left in the half that gave the Nitros a 6-3 lead going into halftime.
“This means the world for us, the boys have been working hard since mid-August,” said Holbrook, whose team advanced to the semifinals for only the third time in program history and the second time in his coaching tenure. “Even when they’re not in season, they’re excited for the season. We put so much into it, the boys practice six days a week and it’s nice to see that work rewarded.”