The top-seeded Stevenson boys water polo team knew it was not going to be easy as it met No. 3 Palatine for the Mundelein sectional championship Saturday afternoon.
The Patriots and Pirates were deadlocked at 5-5 heading into the fourth quarter before Stevenson pulled away late in the game for a 9-7 victory.
Stevenson (21-9-1) earned a second straight trip to the Elite Eight. The Pats host Mid-Suburban League champion Conant in a quarterfinal contest at 7 p.m. Friday. Palatine closed out the season with a 19-14 record.
Two goals by Remy Dalloul put the Pats ahead 2-0 early on before Palatine teammates Kristiyan Kalev and Omar El Hoffi scored to tie the game at 2-2 23 seconds into the third quarter of this defensive struggle.
The goals started to fly after that point, as Dalloul added 2 more goals for a 4-2 advantage with 4:41 left in the third quarter.
The Pirates responded with another goal by Omar El Hoffi. But Stevenson's Mitch Sokolsky scored 19 seconds later to boost the lead to 5-3.
Palatine kept the pressure on Stevenson goalie Rob O'Brien (13 saves) with goals by El Hoffi and Wally Kleinfeldt tying the score at 5-5 with 47 seconds to go in the third quarter.
"We knew today was going to be a coin flip and their goalie had a phenomenal number of saves," said Palatine coach Joe Grzybek. "We had our opportunities, we just didn't put enough of them in the goal. But I appreciate the way our guys played and they never gave up."
Palatine goalie Peter Blackham (14 saves) was under tremendous pressure down the stretch as a goal by Josh Weisberg gave the Patriots a 6-5 lead with 5:04 to play.
Varun Mummadi scored from the left wing on an assist by Sokolsky for a 7-5 lead before Taylor Baretz barely snuck a shot into the left corner of the net for an 8-5 lead with 2:58 remaining.
Christian Kalfas kept the Pirates' hopes alive with a goal with 2:37 left. But Mummadi's long-range goal put the game out of reach with 1:05 to play. Kalfas added a goal with 6.4 seconds left to account for the final score.
"We just trust in our players and trust in ourselves," said Dalloul. "Our counter-attack and determination between all of us was the key and we were able to execute at the right time."
This will be the Patriots' fifth trip to the Elite Eight in the past seven years.
"We knew what to expect and their goalie was unbelievable or I think we would have won by more," said Stevenson coach Sean Wimer, who was thrown into the pool following the game. "We have a bunch of shooters on our team, and they stepped up and did what we asked. In the last two games Remy (Dalloul) has been the best player in the pool and he was unstoppable today, scoring our first 4 goals."