The legacy of the 2011 Eastlake High School boys water polo team as the best-ever in school history was boldly written in the San Diego Section playoffs, even if it had a painful ending.
For the second consecutive season, the Titans won their first round playoff game to advance to the Division I quarterfinals. Sixth-seeded Eastlake drew third-seeded Granite Hills in last Friday’s round of eight at La Jolla High School with realistic hopes of advancing to uncharted territory — a trip to the elite semifinals.
And it appeared an exciting new chapter in the program’s history would be written in a game.
Playing a defensive-minded game play, the Titans held a 3-2 lead over the Eagles entering the fourth quarter. For the team’s seniors, it appeared as if four years of hard work, sacrifice and dedication would be rewarded with the ultimate prize: a quarterfinal round victory.
But fate often writes cruel endings.
And so it was to be for the 2011 Titans — unequivocally the best-ever squad to wear Speedos embossed with the letters EHS.
Granite Hills, no strangers to elite appearances in the CIF playoffs or incapable of scripting magical finishes, answered the four-time Mesa League champions’ challenge with six goals in the final quarter to prevail 8-3.
The Titans’ best-ever season ended abruptly at 21-10.
“We played very well defensively for three quarters,” EHS coach Chris Barrick said. “Our goal going into the game was to play a hard pressing defense and not give Granite an opportunity to counter attack. We were successful for three quarters. I told the boys the game would hinge on our ability to convert on six-on-five opportunities and we didn’t do that. We had eight six-on-five opportunities and only converted on one.”
Barrick credited the stalwart play of the Eagles’ defenders and goalkeeper as factoring into Granite Hills’ spirited comeback win.
“We went into the fourth quarter leading 3-2 and playing very good, patient water polo on the offensive side,” the EHS coach said.
The Eagles tied the game on a controversial six-on-five goal by Thomas Krueger 38 seconds into the final quarter. After watching game film, Barrick said he still cannot figure out why his player, Daniel Lord, drew the ejection.
The Eagles went ahead, 4-3, on another goal by Krueger after Eastlake failed on convert on a six-on-five man-advantage.
“We made a very good cross pass and shot and their goalie (Kevin Levine) blocked it and they scored the only counter-attack goal we gave up all day,” Barrick said.
The game went back and forth from there until 2:26 remained when Darrough Riggs scored on a cross cage skip shot to put the Eagles ahead 5-3.
With 1:31 left, Eric Hum made a defensive steal in the two-meter set position. However, Krueger won the ball back and put a shot into the cage for a 6-3 lead.
The game took a turn for the worse from there for the Titans. “That changed the momentum and we started having to take some chances,” Barrick said.
Trailing by three goals, Barrick pulled goalie Rhett McGinty out of position as an extra defender. Granite Hills padded its lead with two more goals.
“The rest of their goals were garbage goals (after) they kept shooting on an empty cage when I pulled Rhett out to press and try and steal the ball,” Barrick said.
“It was the toughest loss in my coaching career in a game that we had in hand,” the EHS coach said. “Our boys are absolutely crushed.”
Dylan Chase, Josue Alvarez and Lord each scored single goals for the Titans.
Krueger led the reigning Grossmont Hills League champions (24-7) with four tallies.
Two days earlier, however, it was a time to celebrate after Eastlake defeated 11th-seeded Rancho Buena Vista, 13-10, in a first round playoff game played at Coronado High School.
The Titans proved their mettle in the Nov. 9 contest by turning a 3-2 first quarter deficit into a 6-3 halftime lead. Defense once again powered the offense.
“The first quarter we did not press,” Barrick said. “We came back in the second quarter pressing a lot harder on defense and it opened up the offense for us. We got a couple of six-on-five goals and the momentum changed.”
Chase led the Titans with five goals in the win over the Longhorns (18-12) while regular season scoring leader Adam Hilborn scored three goals, Alvarez chipped in with two goals and Mike Tong, Jian Miclat and Hum each scored once.
McGinty had 11 saves in the victory while making two steals.
Alvarez led Eastlake with five steals while Chase and Hilborn each had three steals.
The Titans scored on three of five man-up opportunities while holding RBV to three goals in eight six-on-five chances.
Hum finished the season with a single-season section record 140 steals while Hilborn ended the 2011 campaign with 127 goals.
Chase led the Titans in the playoffs with six goals.
Top-seeded Vista (26-4) will meet second-seeded Carlsbad (22-8) in Saturday’s Division I championship game, scheduled at 2:30 p.m. at LJHS.
Vista defeated fourth-seeded Torrey Pines, 13-8, in Tuesday’s semifinals while Carlsbad topped Granite Hills, 9-7, in double overtime.
Eric Chasse and Danny Tanner led Vista with three goals each while Matt Ruple keyed eight-time defending division champion Carlsbad with three goals.