Boys water polo: Palatine pulls away from Wheeling for MSL crown
The pregame narrative for the two teams facing one another in Wednesday's MSL boys water polo championship could have been easily described by Staind's fall 2001 top five rock ballad, "It's Been Awhile."
East Division titlist Wheeling was making its first appearance since 2016 while West Division champ Palatine had made their last dance at this particular stage two years earlier.
As the sun went down outside Buffalo Grove's Natatorium, the Pirates were the ones shining brightest on the MSL's championship stage as it downed Wheeling 19-6 to capture its first league crown since 2014.
Palatine (21-5) took its cue from senior attacker Max Adame on the offensive side of the pool as he tallied the first of his game-high seven goals just 51 seconds into the contest. After a Wheeling goal by sophomore Gavin Little pulled it within 3-1, Adam Jelonkiewicz and Adame tallied to put the Pirates ahead 5-1 at the end of one.
Matt Stepp and Adame took turns scoring the next four Pirate goals followed by one from Colin O'Donnel that left them comfortably ahead 10-1 with 2:57 remaining until half. They led 12-3 at halftime and never looked back.
Adame, who saw older brother Alex win that last MSL title eight years ago, spoke of the key importance of establishing game control.
"It's just our game plan and we came out hard and fast," Adame said. "Once we're able to get that lead all we have to do is make sure (on defense) they stop scoring. I couldn't have done it without my teammates."
Little's 3 scores paced Wheeling (15-6-2). The Wildcats blistered the Palatine cage with 34 shots on goal but were kept at bay by goaltender Patryk Maslowski and a smothering defense which took Wheeling off its offensive rhythm.
"They have a few awesome shooters and a couple of other guys that work really hard. Our goal was to make those guys as frustrated and to have as few good looks as possible and we did it enough times to be happy with that," Pirates coach Joe Grzybek said.
In regards to Maslowski's performance in net, Grzybek credited his goalie's overall improvement in becoming a catalyst for Palatine's offense.
"The thing with Pat is for as good as his blocks are, his passing has gotten even better this year. Our offense gets to load up on counterattacks because of the passes he makes. We weren't able to do that last year and he made that improvement in his game and it just takes us to a whole new level on offense."
Both squads move on to sectional competition next week. The sixth-seeded Wildcats return to BG Monday for their sectional opener against the No. 11 host Bison while the Conant sectional top-seeded Pirates face No. 8 Schaumburg Wednesday in Hoffman Estates.