Sacred Heart Prep senior Maddie Pendolino would rather not engage in lopsided games, thank you all the same, which is why she enjoys this time of the year.
Pendolino particularly took delight with the Gators performance at the NorCal Invitational, which ended Saturday in top-seeded San Ramon Valley's third NorCal title in the past four years.
The Wolves beat Sacred Heart Prep, 8-3, in an eventful game that clearly did nothing to dull the shine of a well-played tournament.
"Our drive defense has been pretty weak," Pendolino said. "We totally rocked it this weekend."
The Gators, seeded 11th, weren't even sure they would get past the first round. To reach the title game, Sacred Heart Prep had to beat three teams it had lost to earlier in the season.
After knocking off sixth-seeded Leland, 9-5, the Gators (15-8) edged No. 3 seeded Davis, 7-6, in sudden death overtime and then gave an encore performance with a 9-8 sudden-death win over No. 2 Miramonte, in which Pendolino and Maddy Johnston each scored three times.
Now that's what Pendolino is taking about.
"For us, we love to compete," SH Prep coach Jon Burke said. "To get to play in the finals, against the No. 1 team in Northern California, made it a phenomenal weekend. It was a tremendous effort, and included unbelievable play. We just kept battling and competing."
San Ramon Valley improved to 21-2 with the win.. And, oh by the way, the Gators handed the Wolves one of their losses.
Sacred Heart Prep hopes it continues through the WCAL playoffs this week and into the Central Coast Section playoffs that begin Nov. 5.
"The WCAL means the world," Pendolino said. "Hopefully we will get a chance to play St. Francis. It's fun to play them because it's always a tight game and it's not worth it unless it's a close game."
The Gators opened the year losing three of their first five games, with losses to Davis and Leland among them. A loss to Soquel soon after dropped Sacred Heart Prep to 5-4.
"We have definitely grown dynamic-wise and skill-wise since then," Pendolino said. "It was a chance to check in and see where we were. It shows character. We're not about to give up and we try to have short memories."
The Gators always seem to have a handful of losses this time of the year, something that just may keep them motivated. The last time SHP had as many as eight losses in a season was 2012 and that ended with the Gators celebrating their sixth straight CCS title. They're working on a ten-peat this time around.
"That's really more of a confidence boost," Pendolino said. It's not our first time and experience really is a key factor. As we get into the CCS, it seems the more pressure, the better we play."
Gunn played three one-goal games in the tournament, the last a 6-5 victory over Castilleja on Saturday, good for a 15th place finish. The Titans (12-8) participate in the SCVAL tournament this week.
Castilleja's Claire Pisani and Serena Rivera-Korver each scored three goals on the day.
Boys water polo
The Sacred Heart Prep boys team reached the final of the Memorial Cup with a 9-6 victory over host Bellarmine and then fell, 10-9, to Orange Lutheran in the championship game Saturday.
The Gators (18-6) scored five straight goals to open the fourth quarter and erase a 5-3 deficit en route to beating the Bells for the second time in as many weeks.
Andrew Churukian and Alex Tsotadze each netted three goals for Sacred Heart Prep, which could meet Bellarmine again this week in the WCAL playoffs.
Sam Sasaki scored with 1:06 remaining to lift Orange Lutheran (19-2) to the title. Larsen Weigle converted a penalty shot 21 seconds earlier to tie it.
Churukian and Tsotadze also scored three goals apiece in the title match.
Jacqueline DiSanto was named MVP as Menlo-Atherton won the Tiger Cup Invitational, beating host Notre Dame-Belmont, 25-21, 19-25, 15-9, in the title match, on Saturday.
The Bears (24-4) have won 23 consecutive matches going into the final week of PAL Bay Division play.
Eliza Grover collected 12 kills in the win over the Tigers, while Kiana Sales had 10 digs and Kirby Knapp had 27 assists.
DiSanto recorded a double-double with 10 kills and 11 digs in a 25-23, 25-15 victory over Oak Ridge. Erica Fischer added 10 digs.
The Bears also beat Gregori, 25-18, 25-10; Harker, 25-16, 24-26, 15-5; and O'Dowd, 25-19, 25-23.
M-A in Division I and Notre Dame-Belmont in Division II both reached the state championship match last year. The Tigers won the title, while the Bears were state runner-ups.
Sacred Heart Prep won three games in pool play to reach the Gold Bracket of the Spikefest II tournament on Saturday.
The Gators (20-9) lost twice to finish fourth overall in the tournament as Cate Desler recorded 35 kills and nine aces on the day, while Natalie Zimits had 28 kills and 17 blocks. Ally Polverari had 23 kills.
Haley Martella (55) and Alexa Thompson (40) combined for 95 assists and Caroline Caruso added 35 digs.