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Lancers make it exciting but drop playoff match to Wolf Pack Phillip Brents | Fri, Nov 16 2012 03:02 PM

The Hilltop High School boys water polo team ended its season with a 15-9 loss to the host West Hills Wolf Pack in a first-round San Diego Section Division II playoff game on Nov. 8. The 10th-seeded Lancers failed to convert early on numerous scoring opportunities and then watched the seventh-seeded Wolf Pack turn defensive stops into opportunistic goals.

Hilltop ended its season 15-9 after posting a 6-2 record in Mesa League play.

West Hills advanced to last Saturday’s CIF quarterfinals at La Jolla High School, falling to second-seeded University City, 15-6, to end its season 20-11.

“The first half for us was horrible,” HHS coach John Salts assessed. “The second half we corrected that. We came back in the second half, which was a positive. But the bottom line is that we missed too many opportunities on offense.”

State scoring leader Nick Howard led the Lancers with 17 shots in the game but could only get six past Wolf Pack senior goalie Eric Osborn.

Osborn was the man of the match with 16 saves, holding Howard to three goals as his team steadily built an 8-3 halftime advantage.

Hilltop out-scored West Hills, playing its first-ever playoff game at its new campus pool, by a 5-4 margin in the third quarter to reduce its deficit to 12-8 on the scoreboard.

The Lancers rattled off the opening goal of the fourth quarter to make the score 13-9 but could get no closer.

Howard ended his senior season with 205 goals and a single-season section record 210 steals after completing his final game with six goals, nine steals and two assists.

Fellow senior Carlos Uribe, the state leader in assists, tallied two goals, five assists and five steals. He concluded the season with 147 assists, playoffs included.

Carlos Lizarraga scored one goal while Josue Macias made 18 goalie saves, including several of the spectacular variety.

“Josue was on fire,” Salts said. “Nick’s first goal was amazing. He had two guys all over him and scored on a back-hander from under water. The goalie had his arms out and it was like, ‘Where did that come from?’”

Wolf Pack coach James Searles credited his team with not panicking during the visitors’ torrid comeback. “We got back to playing defense, which is our strong point, and the goals followed,” the WHHS coach said.

The Wolf Pack recorded 11 field blocks and 14 steals. Hilltop fired 33 shots at Osborn, an all-tournament selection at this year’s East County Invitational.

“He really made our season,” Searles said of Osborn.

David Arce scored five goals and had five steals to lead West Hills while Justin Shephard scored four goals and added two steals. Kyle Blockson had three goals and two assists while Luke Fonzi and Eric Mitchell each scored single goals.

Four-year letterman Caleb Davies was limited to one goal but contributed defensively with four steals and four field blocks.

“Everyone stepped up,” Searles said.

The first-round playoff victory marked a milestone for the Wolf Pack, which recorded its first-ever official home playoff win.

The campus pool, built at a cost of $4.2 million, opened last spring in time for the swim season. The impact of the pool was immediate as West Hills no longer had to share pool time at nearby Santana High School for practices and “home” games.

It also has served as an invaluable recruiting tool. This year’s West Hills water polo team is larger than ever in terms of the number of student-athletes.

“Our goals were two-part this season — to get to 20 wins and make it past the first round of the playoffs,” Searles said.  “That’s a very special win.”

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