Mykel Garton clinched the game-winning goal for the Turlock varsity boys’ water polo team in a critical league showdown with Merced High on Wednesday, and the Bulldogs 8-7 win was enough to take over second place in the Central California Conference.
“Going into this game we were both tied for second place, so there was a lot riding on this game,” said Turlock head coach Manny Bettencourt.
Both sides came into the game with a 6-3 CCC record. Only one team was coming out with win No. 7.
The significance of the game didn't have to be explained to either side. Instead, they showcased it on the pool in what turned out to be late thriller that came down to the closing minute.
“Turlock and Merced have been big rivals for a long time,” said Bettencourt. “It's always a great game, and their head coach is great and always puts up a great program and team.”
Turlock's Luke Reiss scored two goals in the final two minutes and 45 seconds of the opening quarter and the Bulldogs took a 4-2 lead in the first seven minutes.
Both sides scored one goal apiece in the second as Christian Weaver drilled the backhand goal for Turlock and the 'Dogs went up 5-3 at the half.
Slowly but surely, the Bears of Merced mounted a comeback in the second half. It took less than nine minutes before the Bears finally evened the score at 6-6 with 5:23 remaining in the game.
“That is something we have had problems with over the year is letting teams get back into the game,” said Bettencourt of the second half comeback from the Bears. “It's like it was in the third quarter for a couple weeks we let the other team creep back in, but we responded.”
They responded in a dramatic way, but not before giving up the lead for the first time in nearly three quarters at 7-6.
Merced goalkeeper Nathan Latronica gave the Bulldogs headaches after he managed to come away with over 10 saves for the game. Bulldog keeper Kyle White tallied 12 of his own.
With 1:15 remaining, Turlock tied the game at 7-7 and a timeout followed soon after.
The game was on the line and the Bulldogs knew that a goal was needed quick.
They came off the timeout with a fury and stole the ball to take over. With possession, Gabe Sleeper passed it to Mykel Garton, who then followed up with a corner shot that found its way past the defender and goalkeeper, and skinned the side post, swishing the back of the net to put the 'Dogs up.
Turlock's 8-7 lead with 1:01 stayed put once the defense juiced the clock after White managed two critical saves in the final seconds to cement the victory.
“We were coming off an upsetting loss, so a big chip was on our shoulders,” said Bettencourt. “After today's game... it was the first time I saw them play a complete four quarters and I think today's game makes me feel very confident moving forward. I know that a couple of the kids knew the significance of this game.”
Turlock's next game will be against Buhach Colony at home at 5 p.m. Monday.