HUNTINGTON BEACH -- The Orange Coast College men's water polo nearly ended one of the longest conference championship streaks in the history of the CCCAA on Saturday as the Pirates led early, but fell late to the Rustlers, 9-7, in the title game of the Orange Empire Conference Water Polo Championships on Saturday at GWC.
Much like in their previous matchup prior to the OEC Tournament, the Pirates (16-6) jumped ahead of the Rustlers (22-4) early with strong offensive and defensive play. Coast bolted out to a 4-2 lead after one quarter with three goals by Nicolas Fichman and one goal by Andrej Maodus as the Pirates controlled play against one of the top teams in the state.
Coast maintained its two-goal advantage through the second quarter as goals by Fichman and Ryan Baumann helped give OCC a 6-4 lead into the second half.
Golden West, the defending OEC champion, answered back with four goals in the third quarter to grab an 8-7 advantage heading into the fourth. Baumann picked up OCC's lone goal in the third, but the Rustlers' defense clamped down in the second half, holding the Pirates to just one goal in the second half as GWC tacked on an insurance goal in the fourth to close things out.
Goalkeeper Connor Halloran was outstanding for the Pirates with 14 saves while holding the Rustlers to one of their lowest offensive performances of the season.
The Pirates will compete in the Southern California Regional Championships and will face El Camino in the opening round on Thursday at Riverside City College, beginning at 10:15 a.m. This will be the third meeting of the season between the Pirates and Warriors, with OCC winning the first two (18-7 at the Mt. San Antonio College Tournament on Sept. 20 and 15-7 on Oct. 4 at the Cerritos Tournament). The winner of Thursday's morning match will go up against Golden West on Friday at 11:30 a.m.