Lancers’ polo season ends in tears

NO. 1-SEEDED HILLTOP SEES LATE LEAD EVAPORATE IN BRUTAL 6-5 SETBACK

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Hilltop High School captains Raul Rico, left, and Nic Garces bravely display the runner-up CIF trophy. Photo by Phillip Brents

The San Diego Section water polo playoffs wrapped up June 19 at Granite Hills High School with eight championship games in two gender fields.

Hilltop High School represented the Metro Conference as the top seed in the Division III boys final. But it wasn’t the finish the Lancers were looking for.

Hilltop advanced to the championship game — its first final since 1980 — riding the crest of two narrow nail-biter victories: 12-10 over eighth-seeded High Tech High San Diego in the quarterfinals and 12-11 in double overtime over fifth-seeded West Hills in the semifinals.

The Lancers’ championship opponent was sixth-seeded Ramona, which upset third-seeded Scripps Ranch, 9-8, in the quarterfinals and second-seeded Santa Fe Christian, 9-8, in the semifinals.

It would be an upsetting ending for Hilltop.

There’s no sugar-coating what transpired in the finals seconds of a game that, for all practical purposes, appeared headed for overtime.

Hilltop, the reigning Metro-South Bay League champion and bidding for an undefeated season with a 15-0 record, had just surrendered a 5-4 lead in the final 1:30 of the fourth quarter to the Bulldogs on a goal by senior Casey Schwettman.

Both teams had multiple chances to score heading toward the end of regulation. Ramona had perhaps the best chance with about 20 seconds to play on a shot that rebounded in front of Hilltop sophomore goalie Tim Roa.

Players from both teams were subsequently battling for possession of the ball along the side gutter. The ball came free and Hilltop coach Ernie Medina sounded his horn for a timeout, thinking his team had possession to defuse the tense situation.

The problem was that the Lancers did not have possession of the ball in order to successfully call a timeout. Neither team did.

The penalty for such a miscue proved to be absolutely brutal: A five-meter penalty shot was awarded to the Bulldogs with 6.5 seconds remaining in regulation.

Roa lined up opposite Schwettman on the decisive play of the game. Schwettman scored his fifth goal of the game — his fourth on a five-meter shot —to put Ramona ahead 6-5.

Hilltop regained possession at mid-tank but was unable to produce a potential game-tying score to force overtime and the Bulldogs (10-8) began celebrating their first CIF championship in school history at the sound of the final horn.

Tears had started to flow before the Lancers were even out of the water. They continued well after the postgame awards ceremony.

Medina took responsibility for the erroneous call. “I did what any good coach would do at that moment — call a timeout,” he told the Hilltop faithful after the game.

He just misjudged where the ball was. Had the incident occurred early in the game, it would have been passed over as part of the game. But since it took place at the end of the game and had a direct effect on the outcome of the game, it was grossly magnified.

Hilltop senior Nic Garces exited his high school career by scoring three goals in the team’s runner-up finish at the CIF finals. Photo by Phillip Brents

Hilltop had plenty of opportunities to score throughout the back-and forth contest in which there were six lead changes. The Lancers led by scores of 2-1 and 5-4 while the Bulldogs led by scores of 1-0, 3-2, 4-3 and 6-5. The game was tied five times.

Medina, his voice cracking with emotion, recounted the sacrifice his players had made over the course of the season, first trying to keep safe during the coronavirus pandemic and then trying to cobble together a championship season during the pandemic.

It may have been the most difficult team address in his career. He finally stopped short due to a loss for words.

Hilltop finished the season with a 15-1 record, its hopes of claiming the school’s first undefeated season in boys water polo dashed. Ramona capped its season with a string of monstrous victories by running the table in the playoffs, starting with a 17-9 win over 11th-seeded Olympian.

The Bulldogs were the lowest-seeded team to win a CIF championship on the day.

Senior Nic Garces led the Lancers with three goals while sophomore Aidan Garces and junior Raul Rico both scored single goals. Nic Garces and Rico scored back-to-back goals to start the final quarter to erase a 4-3 Ramona lead.

Rico’s goal came with 1:46 to play and looked to possibly stand up as the history-making game-winner. But Hilltop could not hold onto the lead in the dying moments.

Schwettman scored on a penalty shot just 16 seconds later to knot the teams into a 5-5 deadlock. The rest of the game is history, a painful one indeed.

“I’m sorry for the guys,” Medina offered apologetically.

But the flat somber mood appropriately signaled the end of the season — a premature one from Hilltop’s standpoint.

Junior Jacob Duffie scored Ramona’s other goal in the final while Bulldog goalie Christian Yale was credited with eight saves. Schwettman proved to be the man of the match with four steals in addition to his five goals.

Ramona defenders registered six field blocks in the game.

Metor-Mesa League boys water polo champions: Mar Vista High School

WATER POLO ALL-LEAGUE TEAMS

Metro-Mesa League

Boys All-League
First Team

Ethan Hastings (Mar VIsta) 11
Fletcher Field (Mar Vista) 11
Carlos Ibarra (Mar Vista) 11
Trevor Rector (Mar Vista) 10
Dylan Hartley (Mar Vista) 10
Zane Derrod (Eastlake) 10
David Brown (Mater Dei Catholic) 12
T.C. Spaulding (Mar Vista) 11
David Dare (Mater Dei Catholic) 12
Riley Anderson (Eastlake) 12

Second Team
Luke Wilson (Mar Vista) 11
Jake Osthimer (Mar Vista) 12
Bradford Dickson (Mar Vista) 10
Nathan Crosby (Mar Vista) 10
Zachariah Shields (Eastlake) 12
Giovanni Scheitt (Eastlake) 11
Caleb Hutchins (Bonita Vista) 11
Armando Gonzalez (Mater Dei Cath) 12
Caleb Robinson (Mater Dei Catholic) 12
Leo Downey (Mater Dei Catholic) 11

Player of the Year
Ethan Hastings (Mar Vista)

Team Champion
Mar Vista High School

Metro-Mesa League girls water polo champions: Mar Vista High School

GIRLS ALL-LEAGUE
First Team
Abbey Harbin (Mar Vista) 12
Annie Dickson (Mar Vista) 12
Tatum Billings (Mar Vista) 11
Kayla Quinones (Mar Vista) 12
Melinda Espinosa (Eastlake) 11
Anna Cetnar (Mater Dei Catholic) 12
Maegan Ruane (Eastlake) 11
Haniah Avila (Mater Dei Catholic) 11
Iliana Lopez (Mar Vista) 12
Erin Gidley (Eastlake)

Second Team
Adriana Sammartano (Mater Dei Catholic) 11
Gabriella Murrieta (Mar Vista) 11
Alexis Quinones (Mar Vista) 9
Miranda Vidrio (Mater Dei Catholic) 11
Amalia Koch (Mater Dei Catholic) 12
Alexia Harlow (Eastlake) 12
Daniella Rivas (Eastlake) 11
Summer Simboli (Eastlake) 10
Nayelli Rodriguez (Bonita Vista) 11
Sylvanna Olivas (Bonita Vista) 11

Player of the Year
Annie Dickson (Mar Vista)

Team Champion
Mar Vista High School

Metro-South Bay League boys water polo champions: Hilltop High School

Metro-South Bay League

Boys All-League

First Team
Raul Rico (Hilltop) 11
Nicolas Garces (Hilltop) 12
Carlos Mendez (Hilltop) 12
Aidan Garces (Hilltop) 10
Evan Rodriguez (Hilltop) 11
Tim Roa (Hilltop) 10
Nikos Kapetanios (Hilltop) 11
Caeleb Collins (Olympian) 10
Santiago Reyes (Otay Ranch) 10
Tristan Marshal (Otay Ranch) 11

Second Team
Robert Valencia (Olympian) 10
Gavin Baldo (Olympian) 12
Rodney Jiao (Otay Ranch) 11
David Cano (Otay Ranch) 12
Petros Kapetanios (Hilltop) 10
Jason Esquivel (Hilltop) 11
Liam Romero (Hilltop) 10
Miroslav Segedincev (Otay Ranch) 11
Josh Rivera (Olympian) 10
Silas Reyes (Hilltop) 10

Player of the Year
Raul Rico (Hilltop)

Team Champion
Hilltop High School

Metro-South Bay League girls water polo champions: Hilltop High School

GIRLS ALL-LEAGUE
First Team
Makaylin McIntyre (Hilltop) 11
Monique Beas (Hilltop) 12
Mariagracia Ortiz Zuniga (Hilltop) 12
Sunny Perkins (Hilltop) 12
Vivian Nieto (Hilltop) 11
Maddie Baldwin (Hilltop) 11
Destiny Ruiz (Otay Ranch) 10
Arlyn Fabian (Otay Ranch) 12
Eva Reyes (San Ysidro) 12
Jewel Reyes (Olympian) 12

Second Team
Dania Alvarez (San Ysidro) 12
Victoria Ryan (Hilltop) 12
Jocelyn Ramirez (Hilltop) 11
Daneyra Ramirez (Hilltop) 11
Addison Rushing (Olympian) 11
Rae Ramirez (Olympian) 10
Grace Hill (Olympian) 11
Paulina Espinosa (San Ysidro) 10
Cristina Lopez (San Ysidro) 12
Gianna Da Silva Otay Ranch) 10

Player of the Year
Makaylin McIntyre (Hilltop)

Team Champion
Hilltop High School

Lancers’ polo season ends in tears