Wednesday night, under the bright lights and bitter winter-like conditions at the Steve Fever Aquatic Center, Turlock High’s boys’ and girls’ water polo teams finished the Central California Conference season with thrilling victories over rival Pitman High.
The more intense of the two matches belonged to the men as the Bulldogs claimed a back-and-forth 14-13 double-overtime win against the Pride.
“Oh my gosh that was a heck of a game. What a way to end the year!” said Turlock High’s coach Erich Richter as parents and fans congratulated him following the four-period, double-overtime victory. “That was some amazing, amazing polo out there.”
Indeed it was, as Turlock’s Jacob Johnson and Ryan Ogden led with four goals each, helping Turlock jump out to a 3-0 lead. Turlock twice had four-goal advantages, but despite all of their offensive explosiveness, the Bulldogs’ found themselves tied 12-12 on a clutch match-saving goal by sophomore Pride transfer Nathan Olsen.
Olsen, who just transferred to Pitman from Lemoore High School, came through with two goals down the stretch and ended up with a hat-trick.
Junior Allan Quinn was all over the pool, leading the Pride with three goals and steady defensive play while Evan Schulze, Stuart Backstrom and Alex Selee also found the net.
Senior Cameron Sondeno gunned in an important shot of his own as Pitman ripped off three consecutive goals down the stretch to turn what had been a 12-9 THS advantage into a 12-12 tie at the end of regulation.
However both Ogden and Johnson came back to fire in dramatic goals before Pitman’s Joshua Buck (three goals) cut the deficit to 14-13 with a big goal of his own. But Turlock was able to hang on for the win despite a thoroughly well-played match by both teams as Dario Torrez, Marcelino Ramirez, Jonas Trevethen and C. J. Cossey all scored key goals.
“That was a very exciting, entertaining match. Probably the best we’ve played all season,” said PHS head coach Ryan Bullard. “Whenever we face Turlock our level of intensity goes up and I’m sure their intensity goes up too. I thought Tanner Day, who we called up from JVs, played unbelievably well on defense for us and Gavin Madrigal and Carter Day both played well in goal against a very good offensive team in Turlock. We also did a good job of getting a lot of shots off.”
Approximately 90 minutes earlier, Bulldogs’ girls head coach Sonja Raynes went to the locker-room after a hard-fought 8-5 girls water polo win over rival Pitman and emerged donning her bathing suit.
To the delight of her players, she executed a somewhat-less-than-perfect back flip amid her Turlock players’ hoots and hollers and then happily explained herself before rushing back to warm up in the locker-room.
“I told the girls that if we beat Pitman, I would be so happy that I’d do a back-flip in the pool afterward,” said Raynes, whose team won its final Central California Conference match of the year to finish the season with a respectable 4-6 record. “So I had to pay off on that bet and I was happy to do it.”
As usual, it was the work of the Groteguth sisters, senior Rebekah and sophomore Hannah, that created major damage for the Lady Bulldogs. Rebekah gunned in three goals and added three steals and Hannah also had a three-goal hat-trick to go with three steals of her own, dropping Pitman to 1-7 in league, 4-8 overall.
Senior goal-tender Jennifer Mello also played well with eight blocks
Natalie Larson, who added a pair of goals and a steal for Turlock, broke open a 2-2 match with her first score, giving the Bulldogs a lead they would not relinquish.
“It felt great,” said Larson. “Pitman played us very tough and we knew they would. It’s always fun to play them and I think our rivalry gave us a lot of spirit to win.”
The Pride were led by Angineh Davtians, who notched a pair of goals. Taylor Jarvis, Roxy Abrams and Erin Tait all scored a goal apiece for head coach Michaela Solario’s squad.
After beating Turlock by an 11-1 count earlier in the year, Solario was in no mood to talk after the girls match.
“I thought Turlock came out and played physically against us, but we had our chances to put some goals away that we didn’t,” said Solario. “We did some good things out there, but Turlock played better and I’m not happy with the outcome.”
For her part, Raynes was ecstatic, despite shivering a bit in the cold night air.
“This win was awesome,” the Bulldogs’ coach said. “Hannah played another great game and so did Rebekah, like she has all four years she’s been here and the same was true with Jennifer Mello in goal. She made some big stops at key times and I also thought our other senior, Ashley Johnson, did a great job out there.”
The season is not totally over, however, as Pitman and Turlock’s seniors’ boys and girls will compete in the Turlock Bulldogs Aquatics Boosters North (Modest Metro Conference) high school seniors take on the South (CCC) in the Senior All-Star Water Polo Match, Nov. 23 at Turlock’s Fever Aquatic Center.