Fri, Oct 12 2012 01:18 PM Posted By: Phillip Brents
Like two top prizefighters, the Eastlake and Hilltop high school boys water polo teams appear poised to go the distance in their title bout for this year’s Mesa League championship banner.
Eastlake landed the first blow with a classic 12-11 overtime victory Monday at the Parkway pool.
The Titans’ mastery of the Mesa League continues after the marathon 90-minute match-up finally drew to a close.
Round II is scheduled later this month.
“We did enough to win,” EHS coach Chris Barrick said with an obvious sigh of relief in his voice.
Eastlake entered this season braced by a 27-game league winning streak; the Lancers, paced by senior Nick Howard, the state’s leading scorer, felt they finally had the team to unseat the Titans’ ongoing dynasty.
Howard, rising up from the water like a majestic water diety at times while unleashing cannon shots or reeling off wicked back-handers, collected seven goals in the game. But it was overtime goals by Eastlake’s Johnny Gonzalez and Daniel Lord that stood up as the difference for Eastlake, which improved to 2-0 in league play, 10-7 overall.
Hilltop coach John Salts lauded the atmosphere on the pool deck — some parents waved pom-poms — while acknowledging the effort put forth by both teams.
“This was the best game our team has played all year,” Salts said. “Eastlake brought it. We knew they would. It was a great game between two top two teams in the Metro Conference. This is something which our conference needed.”
Howard and the Lancers appear to be chasing some type of destiny; Howard, with 90 goals in 10 games, is poised to rewrite both school and section records this season. The Hilltop program, meanwhile, continues to make strides to join Eastlake among the section elite.
The Lancers’ breakthrough moment seems imminent.
“They got some shots in and we got some shots in,” Salts said in defeat. “We just made mental mistakes that cost us. But our guys didn’t give up and I’m proud of them for that. We played until the final second.
“It was a tremendous game. I’m proud of Eastlake. I’m proud of my team. I’m looking forward to the rematch.”
Monday’s game, though marred by controversial calls, was expected to be close throughout and it was. The Titans led 4-3 after the opening seven minutes. Hilltop (0-1, 6-4) went up 6-5 at halftime; Eastlake carried a 9-8 lead into the final seven minutes of regulation play.
Lord gave the Titans a 10-8 lead after scoring the opening goal of the fourth quarter. But Howard scored the final two goals of regulation to knot the teams at 10 goals each.
Howard nearly won the game for the Lancers in regulation but hit the post on a shot with 37 seconds to play. The ball refused to go in for the six-foot-three shooter several other times in the game.
If there was one thing that separated the two teams, it was the Titans’ ability to play under pressure. “Our guys don’t panic,” Barrick said succinctly.
When team scoring leader Josue Alvarez fouled out with 1:09 left in the fourth quarter, Eastlake kept its cool and played with patience.
They took that same mind-set into overtime, which in high school water polo consists of two non-golden goal three-minute periods.
With the 30-second shot clock winding down, Gonzalez squeezed a seeing-eye shot between the near post and Hilltop goalie Josue Macias. The ball went in with just one tick left on the shot clock.
Lord scored with 2:15 remaining in the second OT period.
Howard, who had eight goals in a 13-11 non-league victory against Patrick Henry last Friday, notched his seventh goal of Monday’s game with 2:02 left to make it a one-goal contest. He rocked a shot off an Eastlake defender in front of the net with 20 seconds to play.
The Titans, under intense pressure, managed to successfully run out the clock.
Lord paced Eastlake with five goals while Gonzalez scored four times and Alvarez scored three times.
EHS goalie Ricky Gonzales had six saves.
While Howard led all scorers in the game, Salts had to be pleased with the support he received from his teammates. Carlos Uribe and Andy Becerra each were credited with two goals while the HHS tandem of Connor Kober and Macias combined for 23 saves; Macias had the bulk of them (19).
Howard had eight goals, six steals and two assists in last Friday’s game. Howard entered Monday’s game with 89 steals and 33 assists. The Hilltop school record for most goals in one season is 160, held by Daniel Street (1993).
For Eastlake, Alvarez leads the team with 64 goals, 36 assists and 61 steals. Lord follows with 46 goals, 23 assists and 46 steals while and Velasquez has 35 goals. Jian Laxina and Jian Miclat rank third and fourth on the team with 19 and 18 steals, respectively.
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