By upsetting Malibu, the No. 1 team in Division VI of the CIF Southern Section, the La Quinta High School boys' water polo team finds itself in the CIF finals for the first time in school history.
The Blackhawks never trailed against the Sharks on Wednesday on their way to a 10-6 victory at Mt. San Antonio College, allowing Malibu to tie the match at one and again at five, but never take the lead.
The Blackhawks didn't much look like underdogs, getting on the board first with a Jordan Burton goal with 5:34 remaining in the first quarter, but the Sharks answered quickly with their first score, by Emmet Pierson, four minutes and two seconds later, to finish the first quarter with the score tied 1-1.
"It was definitely a hard game at the beginning," said Aaron Lowell, who led the Blackhawks with three goals. "We weren't really into it in the first quarter, but my dad (head coach Cal Lowell) said a few words to us, and it sparked something, and we took off from there."
And that they did. With less than a minute off the clock in the second quarter, Trent Rubio scored on a penalty shot, and then with 4:30 remaining in the period, Lowell scored while the Blackhawks were a man up.
The Sharks picked up their second goal of the game -- from Jordan Clarke -- in the second period, but the Blackhawks responded with another goal from Lowell and another man up goal -- this time from Rubio -- with 1:34 to play before the half, giving La Quinta a 5-2 edge at the halfway point.
"We watched tape of them and we were ready for their strong points and that helped us a lot," said Rubio, a junior, who had two goals in the match. "We had a good feeling about it."
The Blackhawks nearly lost control in the third quarter, when the Sharks reeled off three unanswered goals in just over three minutes. Pierson made the first one and Owen Franz fired the other two.
"They came close. That was a test of the maturity of the boys, and whether they had the will to come back," coach Lowell said.
The Blackhawks called a timeout immediately following Franz's last shot of the quarter that seemed to break the Sharks' rhythm.
"I told them to settle down and go back to our plan that we rehearsed," coach Lowell said about the conversation during the timeout.
It worked, because the Blackhawks regained the lead before the end of the quarter with goals from Reilly Becker and Lowell to go into the final period up 7-5.
That was really all that was necessary to keep the Sharks at bay, but La Quinta played strong defense in the final quarter and scored three more goals, making it 10-5 before Malibu was able to hit a meaningless shot with 26 seconds remaining for the final score of 10-6.
Becker and Burton finished the game with two goals apiece, and Wyatt Seaman scored one. Goaltender Zach Sloan had eight saves.
The Blackhawks now move on to the Southern Section Division VI finals against Temescal Canyon, held Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center in Irvine.