By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
The final score made it look like last Thursday’s City Section boys water polo final was a blowout, but for three quarters heavy underdog Cleveland gave Palisades all it could handle. However, the Dolphins’ depth and experience showed in the final seven minutes as they outscored their opponents 6-1 to finish off a 16-9 triumph that kept their dynasty alive at the LA Valley College pool.
Seniors Maximo Speiser (six goals), Oliver Grant (five goals) and Marc Pryor (four goals) led the way as Palisades won the City title for a record eighth time in a row. Each of the Dolphins’ finals wins has come against a team from the West Valley League.
“This was kind of a down year for us and Cleveland gave us a really good game,” Dolphins head coach Adam Blakis said. “Oliver [Grant] dominated on both sides. His offense feeds off his defense and he got his teammates involved in addition to scoring himself.”
Maksim Ayrapetyan scored the last of his three goals to pull the second-seeded Cavaliers to within 10-8 late in the third quarter and for the Dolphins that was a little too close for comfort. In fact, Palisades trailed 6-5 at halftime despite scoring the first two goals.
“It feels great,” Grant said. “Maximo and I realized we had to step it up. We didn’t want to mess up the streak.”
Cleveland might have had an even bigger lead at halftime if not for several big saves by freshman goalie John Possman.
“He was our backup goalie at the beginning of the season, but he showed no nerves, made some great blocks and some great outlet passes,” Pali High assistant coach Kirk Lazaruk said. “This has been a team of ‘next man up.’ Everyone is contributing.”
Giacomo Pellegrini had four goals for Cleveland, which won its only City title in 2010 and dealt the Dolphins their only City playoff defeat in the quarterfinal round the following year.
“As captain it’s my job to be vocal,” Speiser said. “Adam and Kirk are the voices outside the pool but someone needs to be the voice in the water. I told everyone at halftime to stay calm, keep pressing and push the counter. It was really important to continue our win streak alive. To keep the Pali train going is cool. Our stamina showed in the second half.”
Freshman Sami Raskin added the icing on the cake with his goal with 12 seconds left.
Having won the Regional Division III title last fall Palisades is seeded No. 8 in Division II this time and opens versus No. 1 Vista.
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