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Late rally not enough as Bulldogs lose to Falcons 6-5
Turlock boys 1
Gabe Sleeper of Turlock attempts a shot during Wednesdays home matchup against first place Atwater. - photo by EDDIE RUIZ/The Journal

One goal. That is what separated the Turlock (6-2) boys’ water polo team and the undefeated Atwater High Falcons (9-0) in Wednesday's Central California Conference bout that ended much closer than it started at the Steve Feaver pool.

The unbeaten Falcons almost tasted defeat. They went up by as many as four goals, and the Bulldogs fought back to cut the lead to one, but ultimately fell in the end after the Falcons drained the final 14 seconds to end it, 6-5.

 “We just haven't been able to put our shots away and it’s something we know we need to improve on and that’s what is holding us back from first place,” said Turlock head coach Manny Bettencourt.

The Bulldogs matched well with the first place team in Atwater in nearly all facets of the game, minus the outcome.

Atwater scored two quick goals in the opening quarter and went up 3-0 before Turlock's Dylan Bernardi finally put the Bulldogs on the board after nearly 11 scoreless minutes.

“Maybe we were a little too hyped for the game; just came out and threw bad shots on offense, but defensively we did fine,” said Bettencourt.

They did more than fine, especially in the second half where they held Atwater to just two goals in two quarters.

Turlock scored four in the second half, but they were rough and difficult to get.

“Atwater is a really good team who is extremely well coached,” said Bettencourt.

Down 5-1 with six minutes left in the third, the Bulldogs went on an offensive surge, but not until the fourth.

Matthew Hesse opened up the scoring frenzy for the Bulldogs in the fourth with 5:28 on the clock and a 5-2 score. Hesse followed with the third goal to cut the lead to two, then Atwater went on a quick fastbreak to drill the goal in with no hesitation.

The Bulldogs also killed a power play from Atwater at the 2:48 mark.

Mykel Garton of Turlock scored the fourth goal on a penalty shot and the continuous dramatic scenario followed with multiple timeouts from the home team. Garton was able to fight his way inside the middle of the goalie’s box and from just a few feet away, drilled in the Bulldogs fifth goal to make it 6-5.

Unfortunately the Atwater defense was able to counter after they did a tremendous job blocking nearly every deep shot attempted by Turlock.

“League is definitely tight,” said Bettencourt. “Two losses don’t put us out of it yet since we just need to look ahead and do what we can do. We are fairly confident, we think it’s top two that go to the playoffs, so that’s the thing. We might be out of the CCC contention but we are still in the playoff hunt.”

“I was really proud of the way our defense performed for four quarters,” he added. “Especially that second half and the fourth, we allowed just two goals in the second half. Our defense played well, but not as much as offense.”

Turlock will host Golden Valley at 5 p.m. Monday.