The concrete quadrangle of the cramped Orange Coast College pool might have, at times, been confused with an octagon Wednesday afternoon.
Both the host Pirates and Golden West College were clearly in no mood to back down in the combative Orange Empire Conference first-place showdown in men's water polo.
In the end, it was the Pirates who displayed more passivity, allowing the Rustlers to prevail, 13-10.
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Golden West (15-1, 4-0 in conference), ranked No. 1 in the state, showed the supreme confidence of a perennial state championship contender.
But OCC (15-3, 3-1), ranked No. 5 in the state and No. 3 in Southern California, showed the feisty determination of a team eager to earn respect from the resident bully on the OEC block.
"As you can see from the score [our players] fought every moment of the game," said OCC Coach Adam Lee, in his first year guiding the Pirates' men after six seasons as an assistant for the OCC women's program. "It's a conference rivalry, so both teams were pretty intense."
Players from both teams were seen nursing shots to the face, and that was just the region not covered by submersion.
The Rustlers, coached by former Costa Mesa High star Scott Taylor, seized a 3-0 lead and, after OCC rallied to tie, scored the final two goals of the first half.
The Rustlers dominated the third quarter, collecting five of the six goals in the period. The Rustlers appeared to step up their defensive intensity, though Lee was reluctant to validate any such notion.
"You know it wasn't so much their defense that was limiting us in the second half, it was that we were giving up very bad offensive fouls by trying to hold position, rather than playing for position," Lee said.
The offensive fouls contributed to 19 turnovers for the Pirates, who padded that total with some timid and/or errant passing.
"I thought we played pretty sloppy," Lee said.
After building a 12-6 lead late in the third quarter, OCC finished the game on a 4-1 run, a reflection, Lee said, of the Pirates continuing rise after recent seasons of mediocrity.
"If you look at the team the last couple of years to now, it's a completely different program," Lee said. "This is my first year and these young men have turned it around and are trying to do something very special. They are very committed and very hard working and I'm very proud of them.
"I think it was 1999 or 2000 the last time Orange Coast won a conference championship," Lee said, "and it may have been since the late 1970s that they won a state title."
Charles Howarth, a freshman out of Corona del Mar High, led the Pirates with four goals, while freshman Tony Morelli added three.
Travis Hone, Dillon Avilla and Scott Brush each added goals for the Pirates, who received seven saves from starting goalkeeper Josiah Vander Kooy. Avilla added a pair of assists.
Colby Watson, a freshman out of Corona del Mar High who has played well for OCC all season, was ejected from the game late in the first quarter due to an excessive foul.
Robert Schatz (three goals) and Laszlo Nagy (two goals and two assists), both sophomores from Hungary, led the Golden West offense. Ari Marks, a sophomore out of Corona del Mar High, had one goal and one assist for the Rustlers.