It appears there will be room for only one team atop the 2012 Mesa League boys water polo standings, and that team appears to be the Eastlake Titans based on their gritty 10-6 victory over the Hilltop Lancers Monday at UC San Diego.
The Titans now have the inside lane to claim their fifth consecutive Mesa championship banner.
“It was a total team effort,” EHS coach Chris Barrick said. “The guys who have roles on our team know their roles and they played their roles in this game. Our game is defense. We are patient on offense and take whatever we are offered.”
The UCSD game site — the Titans’ second home game venue — provided more open water for players on the two South County juggernauts in which to attack and defend. The larger pool proved more of a disadvantage for Hilltop, though the Lancers had plenty of opportunities to make their mark in the game.
Execution of plays — rather poor on Hilltop’s part and much better on Eastlake’s part — decided the outcome of the teams’ highly anticipated rematch.
The Titans edged the Lancers, 12-11, in two overtime periods in their initial league encounter on Oct. 8 at the Parkway pool.
“Eastlake played their game,” HHS coach John Salts said. “Hilltop had more than enough opportunities in the game.
“We weren’t able to put together 28 minutes of a mentally strong game. That’s what happened — too many mental mistakes. We kept it close at the start but let it get away at the end of the first quarter.
“I congratulate Eastlake and coach Barrick. Their team should be able to look forward to another league banner.”
Monday’s win was the 33rd consecutive in league play for the Titans (14-8 overall).
Eastlake was coming off a 9-7 non-league loss to Torrey Pines last Friday at the same UCSD aquatics complex. The Titans trailed 8-4 at halftime but carried play in the second half and ended the game with a 24-14 shot advantage.
“We just couldn’t seem to put the ball in the cage,” Barrick said. “We had plenty of opportunities but our youth and inexperience really played into the lack of finishing plays. Our boys played tough the entire game and out-played Torrey Pines the entire second half.”
The roles in Monday’s game were reversed. Hilltop players climbed out of the pool with frustration etched on their faces, particularly senior Nick Howard.
Howard entered the game as the state leader with 144 goals. He racked up seven goals in the teams’ initial encounter. This time, however, the Titans took note of his number and held him to just two goals in the rematch.
The attention went both ways, of course. Hilltop managed to hold Josue Alvarez, Eastlake’s top scorer, scoreless in the game.
“We pretty much knew if we didn’t let Nick loose that we’d pretty much shut them down,” Barrick said. “We did a good job of that.”
The Lancers couldn’t execute a suitable counter strategy.
“With Nick being double- and even triple-teamed at times, we thought that would open space for other guys to shoot the ball, but we didn’t shoot enough,” the HHS coach noted.
When the Lancers did shoot, the woodwork — as well as EHS goalie Ricky Gonzalez — proved to be obstacles too difficult to overcome.
Gonzalez was credited with 11 goalie saves and five steals.
Hilltop’s tandem of Connor Kober and Josue Macias combined for seven saves.
Near-misses throughout the game by both teams made it an exciting contest to watch.
Hilltop’s Carlos Uribe, the state leader in assists, notched the opening goal of the game on a restart from Howard. The game went back and forth from there until Eastlake’s players eventually found their bearings — and open corners.
After Uribe’s jump goal, the Titans methodically reeled off seven unanswered tallies until Howard scored Hilltop’s second goal of the game deep into the second quarter.
Eastlake led 8-3 at halftime.
The Lancers valiantly regrouped and limited the Titans to just one goal in the third quarter but could not generate any goals themselves, thus sealing their fate.
Eastlake took a commanding 9-3 lead into the final seven minutes of regulation play and, though Hilltop notched the opening two goals of the frame to close to within 9-5 on the scoreboard, there wasn’t sufficient time to mount a heroic comeback.
The teams traded goals to end the game.
Johnny Velazquez led Eastlake (6-0 in league) with four goals while Daniel Lord scored three times, Jian Miclat had two goals and Jian Laxina scored once.
Lord also had six steals in a solid two-way effort.
Howard paced the Lancers (3-2 in league, 11-8 overall) with two goals, two assists and six steals while Carlos Lizarraga contributed a goal and three assists. Anthony Carrillo also was credited with one goal.
Howard needed 14 goals in his team’s final four regular season games to tie the school record of 160 goals, set in 1993 by Daniel Street. Howard has already set a new San Diego Section record with 164 steals in one season.
The Lancers, who were scheduled to play Otay Ranch Thursday at the Parkway pool, will play at Mater Dei Catholic on Tuesday, Oct. 30, before hosting Bonita Vista on Thursday, Nov. 1. Hilltop closes out regular season play with a non-league game at South Bay League leader Mar Vista on Friday, Nov. 2.
The section playoffs are scheduled to start Nov. 6 for Division I and Division III teams and Nov. 8 for Division II teams.
Mar Vista improved to 7-0 in league play following Tuesday’s 14-1 victory against Chula Vista at Parkway. Shane Cunniff led the Mariners (11-6 overall) with five goals while Van Brannon scored four goals.
The Mariners topped Southwest, 18-3, in a South Bay League contest Oct. 18 as 13 players either notched a goal or assist. Dominic Rodriguez led MV with four goals, one assist and three steals while teammate Duncan Hastings collected two goals and three assists.
MVHS coach Chad Kavanagh noted this year's team has no senior starters. "There's no where to go but up," Kavanagh said. "The next two years will show improvement. Hopefully, we can move up a spot in the CIF playoff seeding."
Otay Ranch recorded its first Mesa League win of the season by tipping Bonita Vista, 9-8, on Tuesday. Otay scoring leaders included Jake Weidner (five goals) and Mack Glass (three goals).