Sports

It's on to CCS after local teams claim league playoff titles

 

The water polo tournament champions of three different leagues were crowned on Saturday and, with few exceptions, the favorites won while tuning up for the upcoming Central Coast Section playoffs.

In the Peninsula Athletic League Tournament, the regular-season champion Menlo School boys and Castilleja girls surfaced with titles at Menlo-Atherton High. Menlo topped M-A, 11-7, and Castilleja defeated Burlingame, 9-4.

In the West Catholic Athletic League playoffs at Sacred Heart Prep, the host Gators successfully defended. The girls edged St. Francis, 4-3, while the boys avenged their regular-season loss to Bellarmine with a 9-8 triumph.

And, in the SCVAL De Anza Division playoffs at Gunn High, the host Titans took the boys' title with an 18-1 dunking of Wilcox while the defending champion Gunn girls finished third with a 6-5 win over Palo Alto.

Perhaps the only surprise finish of all three tournaments was a 7-1 win by Los Gatos over regular-season champ Los Altos in the De Anza Division girls' finale.

In the PAL tourney, the Menlo boys (16-11) jumped out to a 4-1 lead and held on to claim their second straight playoff title over the Bears (15-10). Senior Chris Xi tallied six goals for the Knights with junior goalie Tiago Bonchristiano stopping 13 shots.

"It's a championship game-atmosphere against our crosstown rival, and our team as a whole was chomping at the bit," said Xi. "We knew they were going to come out swinging since we beat them in league, and our team responded fantastically."

Menlo center defender Miller Geschke had a game-high three steals and three blocks while fellow sophomore Niko Bhatia had three assists and three field blocks.

"My teammates were doing all the right things on defense and offense," Xi said. "As a team, I don't think I can think of any one better performance this year."

Menlo-Atherton scored first on Alex Hakanson's goal, but it wasn't long before the Knights took over. Geschke kicked off a Knights' run with a score off a rebound 4:46 in the first. Just over a minute later, Xi picked up his first goal, then sophomore Jayden Kunwar added another 23 seconds later, and the Knights closed the quarter ahead 4-1.

In the second, Xi answered M-A's goal to pull ahead 5-2 with four minutes left. Bonchristiano already had blocked three shots in the quarter, then Geschke scored on a breakaway with 2:11 left and Xi took a pass from Untrecht and delivered a goal from the 5-meter mark with :58 left in the half.

In the boys' fifth-place game, Woodside handed Burlingame an 11-8 loss. Senior Oliver Mancebo led the Wildcats with five goals while goalie Eric Helseth had 10 saves.

In the girls' PAL finale, Castilleja (15-6) followed up its 7-0 finish and regular-season title with a solid triumph over Burlingame. Junior Serena Rivera-Korver led the Gators with three goals and Claire Pisani added two while sophomore goalie Georgia Lewis came up with 12 saves for head coach Brenda Villa.

Castilleja actually trailed by 3-2 after one quarter before blanking the Panthers in the second to take a 4-3 lead. The Gators also held Burlingame scoreless in the final period while scoring four times.

In the PAL's fifth-place game, Menlo School (17-11) closed its season with a resounding 14-2 victory over Aragon. It was truly a balanced effort with seven players scoring and three playing in goal.

Menlo scored from the set when Jane Zafran jumped out with a goal. The Knights took a 4-0 lead, extending it to 9-1 by halftime.

Junior driver Chloe Ebrahiman poured in five goals for the Knights while Sarah Donato, Anna Miller and Mia Rosenblatt, who played in goal for the first half, added two more in the second half. Michelle Meyer, who also scored, played the third in goal, followed by Parker Callender in the fourth.

In the WCAL playoff finales, the Sacred Heart Prep teams had their hands full while defending their playoff titles.

For the SHP boys (19-7), revenge was sweet since the Gators had suffered a 12-7 loss to Bellarmine during the regular season. This time, SHP jumped out to a 3-2 first-quarter lead.

The Gators moved out to a 9-5 lead in the third period with four unanswered goals in less than three minutes as freshman Larsen Weigle, senior Finn Banks, sophomore Alex Tsotadze and junior Jackson Enright all scored.

Bellarmine then scored three unanswered goals to make the final outcome perhaps closer than it should have been in a battle between last season's CCS Division I and II champions.

Enright finished with three goals while Banks and Weigle added two. Junior goalie JC Marco came up with 18 big saves for the Gators.

In the girls' WCAL finale, junior Maddy Johnston tallied three goals to pace SHP (21-5) to its title defense. The Lancers held a 1-0 lead after one period and blanked the Gators in the first half. SHP came on strong in the final period with three goals. Senior Malaika Koshy added the Gators' other tally.

Johnston scored her third goal with 1:07 left in the fourth quarter, which proved to be the winner. St. Francis called two timeouts in final 1:07, to set up plays, but the Gators stopped both attempts.

"It was a great defensive game for sure. St Francis played really well. They had a strong game plan and executed it," said SHP coach Jon Burke. "We struggled on offense but, ultimately, our defense won the game for us. To hold a team like St. Francis to three goals is a great achievement for our girls. We always say that tough days on offense are going to happen, but that we can never have an off day defensively. That showed last night. We were having trouble scoring so we focused on what was going well for us and that was playing great defense.

The girls knew the game would be like that. Even though we've beaten them twice that doesn't mean anything when you're playing in a championship game. It's not like SF wasn't going to show up and try to beat us. We had to work really hard to win. We stayed focused and when things weren't going well we stayed positive and just kept fighting. It was a great win for the program."

In the SCVAL De Anza Division playoffs, the Gunn boys (17-9) rolled to an easy victory over Wilcox, which finished sixth during the regular season.

"The No. 2-7 teams weren't separated by much this year," said Gunn coach Matt Johnson, whose team has won three regular-season titles and two of three postseason tourney crowns.

Christian Znidarsic tallied seven goals to lead the Titans while fellow senior Calder Hilde-Jones added four. Lucas Batista and Jack Mallery finished with two goals each. Goalie Jackson Waschura had 14 saves for Gunn.

In the girls' De Anza Division playoffs, Gunn (12-11) rebounded from a semifinal loss to eventual champion Los Gatos to beat rival Palo Alto for third place. Freshman Kara Jacobsen had two goals for Gunn with senior Gigi Rohan tallied twice for the Vikings (13-9).

"Ours was a big gut-check for us," said Gunn coach Mark Hernandez. "We lost our semifinal to Los Gatos after a comeback fell short, and our group recovered well and played with grit -- especially when two of our top scorers fouled out in the third quarter.

"The defining moment of the game game with 11 seconds left in the game. The score was tied, and we called a timeout -- and put (goalie) Zoe Banks in the field. Associate coach Aaron Cavagnolo drew up a play that called for Banks or Sylvia Illouz to take the game-winning shot.

"But our third-string goalie, Maria Wu, read the Palo Alto coverage, and passed to Janis Iourovitski, who attacked the goal and made the shot of her career to give us the lead with three seconds to go. We put Zoe back in the goal, and she stopped a last-second desperation shot. This was as gratifying as team wins get. On to CCS, as they say."

— Keith Peters/Palo Alto Online Sports

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