The Gunn girls' water polo team accomplished quite a bit by defeating Los Gatos, 10-3, in the championship match of the SCVAL De Anza Division playoffs on Saturday night.
The victory avenged the host Titans' only loss during the league season and gave them their second straight division playoff title and a 18-8 record heading into the Central Coast Section playoffs this week.
"As my assistant, James Nusse, said after the game, this was a definite statement game," said Gunn coach Mark Hernandez. "If possible, this win was even more rewarding than last year's win over Los Altos in the league final, for at least a few reasons.
"First, this team, more than last year's, had to re-invent itself a few times over the course of the year. Second, Los Gatos had their best players in the whole game -- no player had more than two ejections -- and they played to win the entire game. Third, we won this game the way we've always wanted to win -- on the defensive end. To hold an explosive team like Los Gatos to three goals takes teamwork, speed, communication, and hustle."
Gunn came out very aggressively and, right off the opening sprint, junior Caroline Anderson threw a beautiful cross pass to senior Lauren Lesyna, who put it away for the game's first score 17 seconds into the game.
The Titans then put their defensive game plan into action, and shut the Wildcats out for the rest of the quarter while adding two more goals to lead 3-0 after the first.
Gunn kept up the pressure in the second quarter, allowing only one half-tank goal to Betsy Wall. Then, with two seconds left in the half, Gunn senior Maggie Sockness scored to make it 6-1 heading into intermission.
"We knew the third quarter would define the game," said Hernandez. "Los Gatos is a great team; they are as aggressive as they are proud, and they make very good adjustments. We were the first to score in the third, but Los Gatos, as predicted, fought back. By the time the quarter ended, we led 8-3."
As it turned out, the nail in Los Gatos' coffin came with six minutes to go. Gunn sophomore goalie Sam Acker blocked a Los Gatos attempt, and threw a three-quarter court pass to Anderson, who had broken free on a counter-attack. The Los Gatos goalie, with almost perfect timing, came out to steal the pass, but Anderson, with even better instincts, lofted a shot into the empty net to make the score 9-3.
"It was one of the best plays I've ever seen, from her . . . or anyone else," Hernandez said. "We continued our suffocating defense, and Rachel Wong added the last goal of the game with three minutes to go, to make the score 10-3.
"This was a great team win, and it really speaks to how far we've come in four years. I couldn't be more proud of our team," Hernandez continued. "They've responded admirably to adversity and every obstacle that's come our way, and they played their absolute best game when it mattered most -- when the stakes were the highest. Getting thrown in (to the pool) after a big win never gets old, but this time was especially gratifying."
Anderson and Lesyna each finished with three goals for Gunn.
In the third-place match, Palo Alto (13-9) posted a 9-4 victory over Homestead as Emma Wolfe had four goals and Martine LeClerc added three for the Vikings, who also got two goals from Abbey Kinnaman.
In the West Catholic Athletic League playoffs, the Sacred Heart Prep girls fell to St. Francis for the second time in just over a week, this time 9-6 in the playoff finals Saturday in Atherton. Caitlin Stuewe scored three goals and Kelly Moran had 10 saves for the Gators (18-8), who also lost to the Lancers in the regular-season finale.
Boys' water polo
Sacred Heart Prep topped Bellarmine for the second straight year in the WCAL playoff finals on Saturday in Atherton, but this time it took a little longer.
The teams battled through four regulation periods and two overtime periods before the Gators finally ended it in the third extra period on a goal by junior Harrison Enright.
Sacred Heart Prep (22-4) held a 7-4 halftime lead but the Bells flipped that result in the second half to deadlock things at 11 at the end of regulation. Each team scored twice in the first of two OT periods and once in the second before Enright scored his four goal of the night.
SHP's Zach Churukian also tallied four times while Bret Hinrichs, Will Conner and Michael Holloway had two goals each. Senior goalie Will Runkel finished with 14 saves.
At the SCVAL De Anza Division playoffs, Palo Alto (18-8) dropped its opener to Los Altos, 10-9, but bounced back to beat Homestead, 12-9, and Gunn, 9-5. Senior Bret Pinsker had 12 goals in the three matches with senior Quinn Rockwell adding nine.
Pinewood finished its Mission Trail Athletic League eight-man season on an upbeat note with a 58-28 blasting of host Stuart Hall on Saturday in San Francisco.
The victory moved the Panthers (5-1) into sole possession of second place.
Kevin Tracy threw for 240 yards and five touchdowns to lead Pinewood. Freshman Aidan Lucero 106 receiving yards and two touchdowns in addition to rushing for 67 yards and one score. Senior Owen Lewis caught two passes and scored on runs of one and 52 yards.
Defensively, Lucero led the Panthers with 14 tackles with Jack Sweat and Grayson Burdon each adding 12. Lewis and and Wilson Fields had quarterback sacks with Lewis finished with 11 tackles and Burdon eight.