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    Santa Margarita boys water polo edges Mater Dei, eyes Open Division playoffs
    • October 26, 2023

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    SANTA ANA — Santa Margarita’s boys water polo team splashed and sang in the pool at Mater Dei after a dramatic victory in the final minute of regulation Wednesday night. But that wasn’t the only reason for the celebration.

    The Eagles rejoiced in what they hope was the defining moment of a quest to reach the CIF-SS Open Division playoffs.

    Center Max Ellis capped a dominant performance with a goal from center with 26 seconds left to lift Eagles past Mater Dei 14-13 in a duel for second place in the Trinity League.

    Santa Margarita (19-6, 4-1) entered the match ranked sixth in Orange County and tied with Huntington Beach for eighth in Division 1.

    The top eight squads in Division 1 are expected to be grouped in the Open Division, and Eagles first-year coach Brian Weathersby believes his team might have moved past Huntington Beach.

    “I think we’ll end up jumping them and be in the Open,” Weathersby said of the Oilers, who split two matches against Santa Margarita and went 0-1 against Mater Dei. “And they’ll be in Division 1. That’s what I think.”

    Ellis, an uncommitted senior, netted a match-high six goals and drew a penalty shot. He said he wants to play in the Open Division despite the presence of powerhouses JSerra (undefeated), Newport Harbor (two-time defending champion) and Harvard-Westlake.

    “I want to compete for first (against the best), and if I lose trying to get first, then that’s all right because at least I tried to get the best I can with my teammates,” Ellis said.

    Ellis praised his teammates for their entry passes against Mater Dei (15-10, 3-2), ranked fourth in the county and seventh in Division 1.

    He scored the winning strike off a pass into set by Christian Brossa.

    The Eagles then sealed the victory on a steal on the ensuing possession by goalie Jack Farnell, a JSerra transfer who had 11 saves and three steals.

    Santa Margarita also received four goals apiece from Keegan McGann and Evan Wu.

    Mater Dei, under first-year coach Wyatt Benson, recovered from a 13-10 deficit with less than five minutes left, to knot the score at 13-13. Santino Rossi capped the surge with a counterattack strike with 2:28 left.

    Left-hander Nathan Banos, a Princeton commit, and Brian Barnuevo each finished with three goals.

    Cal commit Alex Oprea, another left-hander, Rossi and Nico Sandoval each added two goals.

    “(If) we bring that effort, we touch up on a couple mistakes here and there, I’m pretty confident we can take down anyone we play (in CIF),” Benson said.

    Santa Margarita plays host to Palos Verdes on Thursday in another match critical to its Open Division aspirations.

    The playoff pairings will be announced Saturday at 9 a.m.

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    ​ Orange County Register