St. Thomas clinches berth in title game

04/26/2014 12:00 AM

04/26/2014 12:04 AM

St. Thomas Aquinas water polo coach Michael Goldenberg had two goals for his boys’ team Friday.

Stay healthy, and get past its anticipated state championship game rematch with Miami Belen Jesuit.

The Raiders did both.

After beating Belen 9-4 in the quarterfinals and Winter Park 14-4 in the semifinals, Aquinas stands one victory away from its second consecutive state championship.

Aquinas (23-2) will try to secure the title when it plays Miami Gulliver Prep Saturday at 1 p.m. at Ransom Everglades School in Coconut Grove.

“There was a lot of anticipation for the first game because we knew either team could reach the final,” Goldenberg said. “I’m glad I was able to use everyone in the second match so they could be ready for tomorrow.”

Aquinas star Erik Goldenberg scored three goals against Winter Park as the Raiders rested several starters in the second half.

Belen, however, shut down Goldenberg, who had just one goal after getting 59 in his previous 23 games.

But Belen could not silence Gal Ben Kiki, a 5-9 junior from Israel whose five goals were the difference in beating the Wolverines.

Ben Kiki, who entered Friday’s play third on the team with 41 goals, was modest when asked about his big performance.

“I can’t do any better without my team,” said Kiki, who also had three goals against Winter Park. “They set me up. You have to give it to the team more than me.”

Aquinas, which beat Belen 13-10 in the 2013 boys’ water polo state final, lost to Belen 7-6 in overtime earlier this season.

“Everyone knew this was going to be our toughest matchup,” Aquinas Coach Michael Goldenberg. “We had a lot of preparation with videos, and we had a game plan that worked for us.

“Gal (pronounced Gaul) had a huge game. He shot five for five — it’s hard to beat that. It’s the best game he’s played finish-wise.”

Belen (22-3) actually led early, taking a 1-0 lead on the first of a team-high two goals by Cesar Gonzalez.

But Aquinas, after having three of its shots go off the post, finally got on the board on Parker Strickman’s goal with nine seconds left in the first quarter.

With 6:14 left in the second quarter, Ben Kiki went to work, scoring from the left wing. Ben Kiki scored again three minutes later to give Aquinas a 3-1 lead, and Belen could never draw even after that.

Even so, Belen got goals from Ryan Guso and Gonzalez and trailed 4-3 early in the third quarter, when the Wolverines had a golden opportunity to tie the score.

• Boys’ quarterfinal — Winter Park 11, Cypress Bay 10: In a thriller, Cypress Bay led 10-9 with 4:03 left but gave up two late goals, including the game-winner with just 43 seconds remaining. Andres Schmidt had nine of Cypress Bay’s 10 goals but none in the last five minutes.

• Girls’ quarterfinal — Winter Park 8, Westminster Academy 4: The Lions (9-6) were eliminated at state by Winter Park for the third consecutive season. Junior Koral LaStella scored two goals late, but Winter Park took control of the match with four consecutive goals to take a 7-2 lead after three quarters.

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