Toward the end of Friday’s first boys’ water polo state semifinal, Belen fans started chanting: “We want Aquinas!”
On Saturday at 4 p.m. at Ransom Everglades, Belen fans — and everyone else involved with the Wolverines program — will get their wish.
After Belen defeated St. Andrew’s 9-4, St. Thomas Aquinas defeated Lake Nona 14-8 to set up the dream Dade-Broward final.
Belen’s only loss came against Aquinas (24-1), and Aquinas’ only defeat was against Belen (25-1).
Never miss a local story.
The Wolverines routed Seminole 26-9 in the quarterfinals earlier Friday, but they struggled in the first half against St. Andrew’s, leading just 2-1.
“I talked to them pretty hard at halftime,” Belen coach Jimmy Aguilera said with a smile. “I told them things that I can’t repeat here.”
The fiery talk must have worked because Belen started the third quarter on a decisive 6-0 run.
Aquinas’ run came a bit later. Lake Nona had rallied to tie the Raiders 6-6 before Aquinas star Eric Goldenberg scored on a penalty shot with 24 seconds left in the third quarter. Aquinas scored three quick goals to start the fourth quarter and cruised from there.
Saturday’s final will be a rematch of the 2013 state championship match in which Aquinas beat Belen 13-10.
Each team has a top goal scorer — Ryan Guso for Belen and Goldenberg for Aquinas, both seniors. Each had four goals in the semifinals.
A sharp contrast comes in goal, where Belen has 5-11 junior goalie Erick Labrador, and Aquinas counters with the much taller Alex Pullin, a 6-7 junior.
“It’s more about the length of your arms and how you can reach the ball,” Labrador said of how he is able to excel at his size. “It’s also about your leg power and your reaction time. Height isn’t everything.”
Guso, said he is really “proud” of how well Labrador has played, but he also had praise for Pullin.
“He can surprise you with how long his arms are,” Guso said of Pullin. “But if we get a good pump on him and work it close to the goal, I think we can finish hard.”
While the boys’ final figures to be tight, Saturday’s 2 p.m. girls’ championship match has a clear favorite — host Ransom Everglades (24-1), which will take on Lake Nona (23-6).
Ransom never trailed in its 7-3 semifinal win over St. Andrew’s. But Lake Nona had to rally from a 5-2 deficit to beat Olympia 10-7.
Now Ransom is one win away from a record six state titles in girls’ water polo. Ransom and Gulliver Prep, which has five titles, are the only teams to win the trophy since the state series began in 2005. No team outside of Miami has ever won in girls’ water polo.
Earlier on Friday, MAST Academy’s girls team, which entered the state quarterfinals undefeated at 18-0, was eliminated with Lake Nona’s convincing 26-4 win.
Four other local teams were taken out in the quarterfinals: Krop’s boys lost to Lake Nona 18-12; Pembroke Pines Charters’ girls lost to Olympia 14-2; and Cypress Bay got swept by St. Andrew’s, 18-6 in the boys’ game and 17-5 in the girls’ contest.