With all the controversy surrounding Mater Dei, it made sense that the water polo season would end on a controversial goal in the Southern Section Division I championship.
Liam Gaughan's decisive goal came as time ran out giving the top-seeded Monarchs an 11-10 victory over second-seeded El Toro in the Division I title game.
It is the third title in a row for Mater Dei, which had previously competed in Division II, thus making this the first major division championship for the proram headed by coach Chris Segesman. It came during a season in which one of its star players, sophomore Jon Walters, was denied eligibility by the section; Segesman encountered Walters while serving as coach in the Olympic Development Program and was considered to have had undue influence. The section's ruling was later overturned by the State CIF on appeal, and the school sued the Southern Section.
So on Saturday at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatic Center, the only thing that would have a more fitting end to Mater Dei's zany season is if Walters had been the hero instead of Gaughan, whose short-range shot was so close to the buzzer that officials had to meet to determine if it counted or not. After a short delay, it counted.
Bret Bonanni, who fouled out with 2 minutes 27 seconds left in the match, scored six first-half goals to lead Mater Dei.
It was the third time in four games that Mater Dei (28-3) beat El Toro (28-4) and, remarkably, all four games ended in an 11-10 score. Going five-for-five in power-play opportunities in the first half, Mater Dei built an 8-3 lead in the first half before El Toro responded in the second, even taking a 10-9 lead with 2:09 left in the match on a power-play goal by Logan Chappell. But Mater Dei's Anthony Daboub scored 17 seconds later to tie the score and set up the finish.
In other championships notable for Orange County:
Second-seeded Corona del Mar trailed by a goal going into the fourth quarter but still managed to pull out an 11-10 victory over top-seeded Murrieta Valley to win its county-best 13th section championship. Chase Watson led Corona del Mar (23-8) with five goals. Murrieta Valley (28-4) actually held a two-goal lead, 10-8, before CdM's Ben Zepfel scored with 14 seconds left to close the gap to one. Miles Carpenter tied the score with 6:02 left, and Zepfel provided the decisive goal with 2:51 remaining as the defense -- including goalkeeper Bruce Bearer (who scored on a long shot in the game's first few moments -- turned in a stellar performance.
Nolan McConnell scored four goals to lift top-seeded Laguna Beach to an 11-9 victory over Damien. It is the first boys' title for the Breakers (27-6), although the girls' program has won two -- including last season's. Damien (25-8) was hanging close, but on the final play of the third quarter Laguna Beach goalkeeper Erik Henrikson fired a shot almost the full length of the pool that deflected off his opposing goalie's arm and found the back of the net for a inspiring 9-7 lead going into the fourth quarter.