There were a number of reasons, of course, why the showdown was so important. The obvious one was what Menlo's 8-7 victory meant — a virtual PAL Bay Division championship as the Knights improved to 6-0 while dropping the Bears to 4-2 with four matches remaining.
The second win over M-A this season also avenged last season's single round-robin loss to the Bears, which ended Menlo's string of 19 straight league titles (1993-2011).
The triumph also help Bowen overcome his feeling that somehow he didn't do his best coaching job last season as the Knights struggled to a 14-11 overall record and were knocked out of the Central Coast Section Division II playoffs in the quarterfinals — despite being the No. 2 seed.
"I had a strange feeling like I let last year's team down," he said, "and that I had to make sure that this year's Jack Bowen was a better coach than that."
Mission accomplished. Menlo (14-2) already has equaled last year's win total and the players are competing at a much-higher level.
That was evident in Wednesday's match as the Knights battled back from early deficits, took a two-goal lead before losing it and then wrapping it up when junior Nick Bisconti converted a 5-meter penalty shot with 48 seconds to play.
"Our goal is always to be our best," said Bowen. "We wanted to prove it to ourselves that if we are well-prepared and play well, we'll do well."
Menlo took a 7-5 lead into the final period, but the Bears tied things up on goals by Matt Baszucki and John Knox. M-A had the ball with 1:07 remaining, but a turnover game it back to Menlo. Weston Avery, whose goal in the third period game the Knights a 7-5 lead, drew a penalty with under 50 seconds left, setting up Bisconti's winning shot.
"The exciting thing about this game is that M-A was so well-prepared and both teams have improved so much in the last month."
Menlo-Atherton (7-5 overall), which lost its division opener to Menlo, 10-8, on Sept. 5, played without one of its top scorers, Evan McClelland, He was sidelined by the flu.
The Bears, however, took leads of 1-0 and 2-1 before Menlo scored four unanswered goals to grab a 5-2 lead. M-A then went on its own scoring run with Jace Blazensky, Buszucki and Mostyn Fero tallying goals for a 5-5 tie.
Menlo goalie John Wilson was outstanding, coming up with 12 saves — some from point-blank range.
In the West Catholic Athletic League, Sacred Heart Prep held on to first place with a 16-7 romp over host Mitty. Nelson Perla-Ward tallied four goals to pace the Gators (3-0, 11-1) with Michael Swart and Michael Schuur each adding three.
While the SCVAL De Anza Division won't be decided, the outcome of Thursday's night's showdown between rivals Palo Alto and Gunn should go a long way in deciding this season's regular-season champion.
The matchup not only brought together the top two teams in the division, but once again matched brothers Brandon and Matt Johnson — the head coaches at Paly and Gunn, respectively.
Matt was 1-0 against his brother this season, a victory that opened the division season and catapulted the Titans into first place. Gunn has remained there ever since and is 6-0 in league (9-6 overall) heading into the showdown following a 16-10 dunking of host Monta Vista on Tuesday.
Coby Wayne led Gunn with seven goals while brother Ari added four. Christian Znidarsic finished with three goals as the Titans continued one of their finest seasons since Matt was a standout goalie eight years ago for Gunn.
Palo Alto (5-1, 15-3), meanwhile, kept pace with a 9-5 victory over visiting Los Altos. Sam Kelley led the Vikings with three goals with fellow senior Will Mendenhall adding two.
In the PAL Ocean Division, Priory earned its sixth win of the season with a 13-4 victory over Capuchino. Will Xu led the Panthers (6-8) with five goals to raise his team lead to 58. Brooks Royals added three goals, five assists and five steals while goalie Scotty Harris had 12 saves, bringing his season total to 157.
Girls water polo
Menlo-Atherton took control of the PAL Bay Division race with a 9-7 triumph over visiting Castilleja on Wednesday. The Bears moved to 6-0 (9-4) with the Gators dropping to 4-2 (8-6).
Jessica Heilman scored six goals to pace M-A, which took some of the pressure off starting goalie Sierra Sheeper, who had been sick leading up to the match. Francesca Gilles filled in admirably and came up with 10 saves.
Castilleja actually held a 4-1 lead following a goal by Maddie Macdonald early in the second quarter. M-A then rallied behind goals from Heilman (two) and Fiona Jackson before Stephanie Flamen gave the Gators a 5-4 halftime lead.
Heilman then went to work and scored three unanswered goals for a 7-5 lead. When Castilleja clawed back to within 7-6, Heilman tallied her final goal for an 8-6 advantage.
In the West Catholic Athletic League, Sacred Heart Prep held on to a share of first place with an 11-5 win over visiting Mitty. Senior Morgan McCracken led the Gators (3-0, 12-2) with four goals while fellow senior Caitlin Stuewe added three.
On Tuesday, Gunn maintained its hold on first place with a dominating 21-1 dunking of host Lynbrook. Caroline Anderson, who scored 15 goals in two SCVAL De Anza Division wins last week, added six goals to her season total as the Titans improved to 6-0 (10-4). Senior Rachel Wong finished with four goals while sisters Natasha and Bianca Batista each tallied three goals.
The Titans hosted Palo Alto on Thursday. The Vikings (2-4, 4-10) dropped an 8-4 decision to visiting Los Altos on Tuesday.
This story contains 1009 words.
Stories older than 90 days are available only to subscribing members. Please help sustain quality local journalism by becoming a subscribing member today.
If you are already a subscriber, please log in so you can continue to enjoy unlimited access to stories and archives. Subscriptions start at $5 per month and may be cancelled at any time.