PASADENA — Whatever momentum the Flintridge Prep boys' water polo team had accumulated with a last-second first-quarter goal was quickly erased by Pasadena Poly's Dennis Grover.
Grover forced two steals to start the second quarter, which both led to Poly goals and turned a one-goal advantage into a three-goal lead. The Panthers rode that momentum to a commanding 14-5 victory when the last two unbeaten teams in the Prep League squared off at Pasadena Poly on Saturday afternoon.
"We just want to come out hard every quarter no matter what the score is," said Grover, who finished with four goals and two steals. "We came out hard that quarter and with those two goals we didn't look back from there, we just kept going. … I think with those two goals we hurt them a little. Those were two big goals to get our momentum going."
The first quarter was tightly contested with Brock Hudnut (two goals, two assists) putting Poly on the board first on a rebound off his own shot that came on a six-on-five opportunity within the first minute of play. Prep's Ethan Vandeventer, who scored four of his team's five goals, knotted the score off a Sean King assist with 3:13 left in the quarter.
Poly jumped out to a two-goal lead, 3-1, with 2:13 left on scores from Spencer Rogers and Hudnut that came within 43 seconds of each other.
Connor O'Malley looked to bring Flintridge Prep back into it when he drew consecutive ejections. The first man-advantage shot from King was saved by Poly's Josh Ball but the second, which came with 11 seconds to go, prompted a Rebels timeout and led to another Vandeventer goal with 1.1 seconds left in the first.
Grover shifted the wave of momentum onto the Panthers' side of the pool, as he forced a steal and drew an ejection in the middle of the pool to open the second quarter. Rogers (two goals, two steals and an assist) scored on a Hudnut assist 30 seconds into the quarter. Grover forced another steal on the ensuing Prep possession and scored it to give Poly a 5-2 lead.
"I think that was definitely a swing, you're talking going down 4-2, 5-2, in the first minute [of the second quarter]," Flintridge Prep Coach Dan Hare said. "One goal [deficit] on anybody and I think we're OK, three goals on this team and it's very difficult. They just finished very strong in that second quarter."
The Rebels cut the lead to 5-3 on a King goal with 4:21 to go in the half, but saw the Panthers go on a three-goal run capped by a Grover goal 21 seconds before halftime for an 8-3 lead.
"After one quarter we're thinking, 'We're close enough, this works,'" Hare said. "I'd even say so at halftime after what we've faced this year, but the way they came out in the third putting three on the board, that's a tough deficit."
The win ended a week where the Panthers (11-2, 4-0 in league) played three of the top-ranked teams in their division. They opened with a 17-7 win over fourth-ranked Crescenta Valley on Tuesday. Poly then dispatched its seventh-ranked, league-foe Chadwick, 15-4, Friday before handling the Rebels (10-6, 2-1 in league), who were nipping at their heels for the league lead, Saturday.
"Obviously, we had a very good week," Poly Coach Ryan Katsuyama said. "We won those three games by nine or more goals, and if you would have told me that at the beginning of the week I would have said, 'You're crazy.' The guys had a great week and they played well together as a team. I like the way we're playing on both sides of the ball and there are no complaints whatsoever. Hopefully we haven't peaked."
The Panthers extended the run to 6-0 with three unanswered goals in the third, as Prep was held to outside shots in the second half. It led to a big day from Ball, who finished with 15 saves.
Vandeventer scored two more goals to cap Prep's scoring, but Poly pushed the deficit to nine with goals from Omar Dairi (three goals, four steals and an assist), Grover and Ryan Schiller.
"I think it's a reminder we've had a great start to the season, but we still have a lot of work to do," Hare said.