Turlock High boys water polo coach Steve Feaver sensed that his players were nervous about Tuesday night’s matchup with Pitman High, hours before it began.
When the highly anticipated meeting between the Central California Conference’s last two undefeated teams commenced, Pitman stormed out to a two-goal lead. That didn’t concern the veteran coach.
“We’ve been behind before,” Feaver noted. “We weren’t playing at our best yet.”
In fact, the Bulldogs — last season’s undefeated league champions — didn’t pull away until the final minutes, when they turned a one-goal lead into an 8-5 win to remain undefeated heading into the second half of the league schedule. Turlock took advantage of Pitman’s late-match mistakes, and Blake Phillips and Patrick O’Connor fired off goals in the final 3 minutes.
“I could sense at school that they were nervous and adrenaline was in their system,” Feaver said. “They knew the game was big. It took us a while to calm down.”
It was tied 4-4 at halftime.
As the Turlock coaches and players would say later, the match wasn’t won on the offensive side. It was the Bulldog’s defense that stood out, highlighted by goalkeeper Neil Wraske’s 13 saves and Antovan Davtians’ six steals. Of course, O’Connor’s three goals — which were supported by goals from Morley Baker, Davtians, Joel Geiger, Hunter Mangrum and Phillips — helped.
The pre-match circumstances were enough for fans to come out and show support, with many of the spectators forced to stand around the pool because the bleachers were packed. This was a meeting of two undefeated teams, as Pitman was coming off an impressive 14-13 win over Merced (after being down 6-1 in the first period) and Turlock, under the supervision of Feaver, always boasting a strong squad.
The Pride jumped out to a 2-0 lead.
“When they scored,” Davtians said, “we knew we had to step up.”
The Bulldogs scored two goals (from Mangrum and Baker) to go ahead 6-4, but the Pride fired back. Beau Powell scored the last of his three goals with 4 minutes, 6 seconds left in the contest to cut the deficit to one goal. But then, Turlock capitalized on late Pitman mistakes and ended up with two goals, killing the Pride’s chance for a late-match comeback.
Quentin Day and Tyler Jamieson added scores for the Pride and goalkeeper Zach Hazelwood finished with four blocks and six steals.
“I personally feel like we outplayed Turlock for most of the game,” Pitman coach Drew Clute said. “We created so many advantages. We just didn’t put away shots.
“But we made them earn everything.”
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