Pali High water polo player Mitchell Kim talks about scoring eight goals in the City finals.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock during Wednesday’s City Section boys water polo final, goalie Ross Aronson flipped the ball to Palisades High teammate Mitchell Kim to the right of the goal.
Kim held the ball over his head as the horn sounded and it was fitting that he was the last player to touch it — for he certainly earned the game ball after scoring eight goals in the Dolphins’ 19-3 rout of Birmingham at LA Valley College.
It was the most one-sided of nine City championship games and gave Palisades its record fourth consecutive title.
“I don’t know about me being the go-to guy… we have a lot of players who can score,” said Kim, who was lifted on his teammates’ shoulders afterwards. “This was my last high school game and it’s amazing that it ended like this. I was confident we’d win, but I’m surprised how much we won by.”
Kim opened the scoring 53 seconds into the contest and quick-strike goals by fellow seniors Zach Senator and Kian Lotfi made it 3-0 before a minute and a half had elapsed.
“We knew coming in we were faster and it was to our advantage to use our speed to counter and tire them out,” Kim said. “We’re a very unselfish team. We moved the ball around and kept them chasing us.”
Birmingham made it 3-1 halfway through the first quarter, but second-seeded Palisades (15-4) responded on fast-break goals by Lucas Silva and Kim. After the Patriots pulled to within 5-2 on a tally by Oscar Alonzo, Lotfi and Kim scored 13 seconds apart and the Dolphins had a commanding 7-2 lead.
The second quarter was more of the same as Kim repeatedly stroked past the Patriots for breakaways. He scored twice more and Isai Elias and Quinn Godfredsen each added a goal before halftime, increasing the margin to 11-2.
“This one’s at the top of the list for me,” said Lotfi, who had four goals, six assists and 13 steals. “For one thing I was healthy and our bench is much deeper. Last year there were lots of ups and downs. The key to our success this year was defense.”
Senator had two goals and nine assists, Aronson made 14 saves, one on a five-meter shot, and Darain Noveir scored twice as Palisades outscored Birmingham 5-1 in the third quarter. Kim netted the Dolphins’ final goal with 4:36 left.
“Mitchell has such an accurate shot, so feeding him is a priority,” Lotfi added. “Our communication was great tonight and everyone contributed.”
Brandon Epp had five saves, combining with Aronson to hold the Patriots scoreless for the last 10 minutes.
Birmingham claimed the first three section championships (the first two were co-ed titles) and added its last in 2011.
The Patriots had several quality chances in the first few minutes, hitting the post twice, but try as they might they could not skip it past Aronson, who stopped three shots in one sequence, then fed a length-of-the-pool pass to a streaking Senator that resulted in Lotfi’s first goal.
“Coach kept on telling us beforehand ‘Don’t let them score, don’t let them score,” Kim said. “I was glad we weren’t the top seed because I’d rather be the underdog.”
For several years, drivers Lotfi and Senator have been a potent one-two punch, but this season they had plenty of help from their friends.
“I told myself I wanted to look to pass first this season because I knew it would be best for the team,” said Senator, whose five goals keyed Palisades’ 11-9 triumph in last year’s final. “The first one was here in this pool so this brings everything full circle. Every title is great but my favorite was last year because I was the leader and it was a lot closer.”
Senator wasn’t surprised in the least by Kim’s goal-scoring spree.
“Mitchell is so smart — he does things to get himself open,” he said. “He works well in the flow of our offense and when he gets the ball he knows what to do.”
Aronson felt anxious beforehand, but once the game started he showed nerves of steel, making several point-blank saves in the first quarter when the outcome was still in doubt.
“Someone was right in my face with his arms up so I had to get rid of it,” Aronson said of the final play. “Mitchell was closest to me and I was happy he got it. This feels awesome for us seniors to go leave as champions and now it’s everyone else’s turn.”
It was a humbling defeat for the No. 1-seeded Patriots (22-6), who once ruled the City but have lost to Palisades in three of the last four finals.
“We knew their top three were fast and our plan was to get past the half, then drive and draw kick-outs,” Birmingham Coach Vincent Kezman said. “We prepared for soft counters but they utilized their speed very well.”
After the awards ceremony, Pali High Coach Adam Blakis joined his team for a celebratory dip — a ritual he’s become all too familiar with.
“I honestly think next year’s team can be even better than us,” Kim said. “The young guys got lots of playing time are really motivated to make it five in a row.”
— Steve Galluzzo
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