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Metro Conference tournament recap

Bizarre twists, turns rule the waves

Bonita Vista, Chula Vista advance to title game; Eastlake, Montgomery play for third


Metro Conference tournament scoreboard

Metro Conference tournament game action photo album

Metro profile: Eastlake High's scoring wizard Nik Clair-Williams


By Phillip Brents

CHULA VISTA, Oct. 29, 2001 -- The story of this year’s Metro Conference boys water polo tournament wasn’t necessarily who won it, but how all the teams got there. Top-seeded Bonita Vista (15-11) claimed its San Diego Section-record 15th consecutive league title — and automatic playoff berth — when the Barons defeated fifth-seeded Chula Vista (6-18) by a 17-1 score in the tournament championship game Oct. 31 at Southwestern College. In the third place game, third-seeded Montgomery (14-5) upended second-seeded Eastlake (9-12) by a final score of 17-8.

Forget the outcome, however. This year’s tournament will be remembered as the classic whereby all other future editions will be measured. Drama, perseverance, sheer talent — as well as a healthy dose of controversy — were all put on display by the six participating teams, four of which will conclude their conference campaigns in the Halloween finals.

Bonita Vista advanced to the championship game by virtue of 11-1 and 15-0 victories against Montgomery and sixth-seeded Mar Vista, respectively, in Saturday’s preliminary playoff rounds. Chula Vista took a more convoluted path to the tournament’s showcase contest that included two overtime contests and a marathon three-way shootout that, like one of the overtime games, went into a sudden-victory round.

"All throughout the day, we were thinking there was no way this would happen and it happened," Spartan coach David Hunt said. "I think they deserved to be there."

For Chula Vista, the championship game appearance will sweeten a season otherwise filled with its share of frustrating moments and near-misses. Perseverance proved to be the key operating word in the end for the Spartans, who saw it all come together at the right moment in time.

The same could be said for Mar Vista, which finally won its first league game in its last game of the season by defeating Hilltop 19-7 in Saturday’s fifth-place game.

For Eastlake and Hilltop, however, there was very little that separated either team from playing for the championship or finishing sixth.

Eastlake, which finished second in last year’s tournament, came within a shootout goal of gaining redemption for a season mostly gone awry. Hilltop supporters likely saw their team’s season end in tears and disbelief.

In the truest sense, superlatives properly described the day’s unfolding events: terrific, unbelievable, outstanding, sensational ... incredible! Take your pick ... all applied at one point or another.

"The shootout determined who was playing for first place and who was playing in the fifth-place game," explained Hilltop co-coach John Salts, who saw his team’s fortunes take an unexpected, abrupt turn after a season of steady progression and improvement. "It was disappointing how it turned out but I’m proud of every single player. They played their hearts out today and left everything in the pool. As a coach, I can’t say how proud I am."

The opening two games of Saturday’s round-robin format featured high-profile rematches right off the starter’s whistle. Bonita Vista, which defeated Montgomery by a 16-2 score just three days previously, drew an Aztec squad sporting an overall 12-4 record while Eastlake, which earned the tournament’s second seed, paired up with an upset-minded Hilltop squad in an even more fiercely competitive matchup.

Andrew Hibbard and Mike Pilgrim led the Barons with three goals apiece against Montgomery while teammates Nathan Golder and Jeff Balistreri both scored two goals. Hibbard, the conference’s freshman standout, scored the first two goals of the tournament. For the Aztecs, Jorge Camacho scored to spoil the shutout bid by Baron senior goalie Patrick Loitz.

The second game promptly set the stage — and the tempo of play — in the opposing bracket. The Titans had defeated the Lancers, 13-10, on Oct. 10 but late season attrition on Eastlake’s part had narrowed the gap between the teams considerably in terms of talent. With the Titans missing senior pointman/two-meter guard Robert Cruz, an all-league selection last year, due to college entrance exam testing, the disparity in available talent was even more skewed. Hilltop took advantage of that to methodically build a 9-3 lead early in the third quarter before holding on to preserve a 9-8 victory after Eastlake responded with a late rush by scoring the game’s final five goals.

Junior Nik Clair-Williams, who led the Titans with seven goals in the contest, scored three goals in succession to cut his team’s deficit on the scoreboard to 9-6 with 4:20 left in the final period. Clair-Williams then assisted on Derek Gallanosa’s goal with 3:11 remaining to further hack away at the once formidable Hilltop lead. With momentum squarely on Eastlake’s side, Clair-Williams scored from long range off a foul call to make it a one-goal game, at 9-8, with 2:22 still left in the game. However, poor passing in an attempt to set up the Titan scoring wizard for the equalizer — or possibly more — coupled with an over anxious arm on Clair-Williams part at times and simply superb clutch goaltending by Lancer senior Pedro Martinez held Eastlake at bay for the remainder of the contest, which kept hearts fluttering on both sides of the pool until the final second.

Nick Kolata, who comprises a talent-laden junior class within the conference, led Hilltop offensively with four goals, two assists and two steals while Richard Davidson keyed the defensive effort with five steals. Martinez had 15 saves, two assists and one steal. As a team, the Lancers finished with 14 team steals. Sophomore Kyle Kovar contributed three steals to go with one goal and one assist while classmate Nick Davidson had two steals to show alongside one goal and one assist. Junior Jeff Schroeder had two goals, one assist and one steal. It was Kolata’s backhand goal that gave Hilltop a 9-3 lead.

"Both teams came out strong. Hilltop played a very strong second quarter and third quarter and took a big lead. Call it a loss of focus or inconsistent play, but we didn’t play like the same team that started the game," Lancer co-coach Linda McCoy said. "Pedro had a strong game, particularly in the second quarter which put us in position to take control of the game in the second and third quarters."

Martinez had seven saves in the second period while his teammates reeled off four unanswered goals to turn a 3-2 deficit into a 6-3 lead. Hilltop opened the third period with three more unanswered goals to cap an inspired 7-0 scoring run.

However, the roller coaster ride was just starting.

Bonita Vista secured its berth in the first-place game by scoring the shutout victory against Mar Vista in the next game. Hibbard again led the Barons offense with three goals — a figure matched by teammates Bram Hanono and Greg Broadfoot. Following on the scoresheet was Pilgrim with two goals. The Mariners, who previously fell 16-1 to Bonita Vista in first-round play, trailed by a scant 2-0 margin after the first period. However, the Barons put the game out of reach with an eight-goal outburst in the second quarter en route to a 10-0 halftime edge.

It was then back to play in Bracket B: Chula Vista vs. Eastlake.

The teams had met just three days prior to the tournament with the Titans scoring a 10-8 win in the water that was later overturned because of Eastlake’s use of an ineligible player. After so many narrow setbacks throughout the course of the season, it was apparent the Spartans were beginning to peak and the rematch continued the trend.

Behind four goals from senior Jeremy Olaso, Chula Vista took a 7-3 lead in the third quarter and appeared to be the second team in succession to take advantage of the Titans’ manpower misfortunes. However, fate intervened when Olaso was ejected from the contest for unsportsmanlike conduct (though there remains some dispute as to the severity of what was actually said) and Eastlake regained the services of Cruz, now back from testing. With some spark added to their lineup, the Titans closed the gap on the scoreboard with four consecutive goals — the first scored by Cruz and Clair-Williams following with three more.

In the first of two three-minute overtime periods, Cruz hit the crossbar on a lob shot before Danny Lopez scored with 49 seconds left to give the Spartans back the lead at 8-7. Another hit post (this time by Eastlake’s James Laxson) drew more sighs before Cruz got the Titan cheering section in gear on a man-up goal with 1:18 to play in the second overtime period to tie the teams at 8-8. Chula Vista senior goalie Chris Young then took center stage in all the theatrics being played out in the pool. Clair-Williams hit the crossbar at point-blank range in the waning seconds and then grabbed the rebound, only to have Young block the follow-up shot with his face. The Spartan goalie made the sacrifice intentionally, as he was unable to get his arms back up in time. Young never lost a beat, however, by tipping a lob shot out of danger at the buzzer.

The sudden-death overtime period ended after 34 seconds — time enough for Clair-Williams to take three shots at the CV cage. Young blocked the first from two meters, the crossbar took care of the second, but Clair-Williams put away the rebound on the third shot to keep the Titans in the championship hunt. The game-winning goal was the sixth of the game for Clair-Williams, who totaled 13 of his team’s 17 goals in the two bracket games. Junior Peter Silva, who took over two-meter guard duties in Cruz’s absence, had one goal in the game against the Spartans.

"They played valiantly," Eastlake coach Don Swanson said. "We were undermanned. They fought their hearts out. They’re to be commended for it. They battled".

Hard luck Chula Vista had little time to regroup, however. Despite the disappointing setback to the Titans, the Spartans entered their final game against Hilltop with the opportunity to still advance. In order to do so, Chula Vista needed to defeat the Lancers by two goals. Just beating Hilltop would be an accomplishment in itself after the Spartans had dropped two previous decisions to their westside rivals this season — the latest meeting by a 6-2 score. The Lancers had much to gain with a third victory: a berth in the tournament championship game.

Following Montgomery’s 12-4 defeat of Mar Vista to claim one of the two spots in the third-place game, the moment of truth arrived for both Hilltop and Chula Vista. Predictably, with so much at stake, the game was a defensive struggle with both goalies shining in their respective cages. Goals by Kolata and Nick Davidson gave the Lancers the early edge but CV’s Gregorio Flores got one of those goals back just before halftime to reduce the Hilltop lead to 2-1. A potentially devastating momentum shift occurred in the third period when Martinez stuffed Flores on a breakaway and Schroeder retaliated with a goal to push the Lancer lead once gain to two goals at 3-1. That left the Spartans with one quarter to make up two goals. Chula Vista got the turnaround goal it needed early in the final period to cut the deficit to one goal at 3-2 when Lopez scored off a perfect goalie feed from Young. With the game clock running down on their championship game hopes, the Spartans obtained possession of the ball with 38 seconds remaining in regulation play and called for a timeout. Incredibly, seven seconds later the game would be tied when Lopez passed to sophomore Bryan Flitcraft, who gunned in a shot from the wing.

The first overtime period ended scoreless though Chula Vista generated two good scoring opportunities when Jack Fritz hit the post and Flores sailed a shot just wide on a power play.

The second overtime period generated the controversy that stalled Hilltop’s season after the Lancers were charged with fielding an illegal player to start the period. A red flag had been raised at the scoring table in the first overtime session to signify that one of Hilltop’s players had collected three ejections and thus was ineligible to continue playing. The Lancers maintained that their player had accumulated only two ejections and thus was eligible to continue in the game. However, a four-meter penalty shot was finally awarded to Chula Vista with 10 seconds elapsed in the second overtime period and Flores scored past Martinez to give the Spartans a 4-3 lead. The drama -- and heroics -- were only beginning. Nick Davidson matched Flores’ OT goal for the Lancers by slipping a skip shot past Young with 1:12 to play in the period. With the score knotted at 4-4 and the possibility of another sudden-victory overtime looming, Flitcraft secured a ride on his teammates’ shoulders by zipping in another outside shot for the game-winner with 47 seconds to play. Lopez drew the assist.

"I was just thinking to go for the corner because I saw where Pedro was set in the goal," said Flitcraft, who owns his gunner’s arm from seven years of playing baseball.

The 5-4 win by Chula Vista only threw matters into a further quagmire as all three teams in the bracket not only finished with 1-1 records but with the same goal-differential. A three-way shootout would decide which team would play for first, third and fifth place.

Even then, it took an extra round to get the order right.

Each team selected five shooters who then took turns taking shots from four meters at the opposing netminder. Both Chula Vista and Eastlake finished the three-way shootout with seven goals while Hilltop was bitterly relegated to the fifth-place game after scoring six times. The Spartans and Titans then held a shoot-off to determine which team advanced to the title game and which team would play for third place.

In the sudden-victory round, Eastlake promptly rang off three goals before Eastlake's fourth shooter shot wide and Young blocked the Titans’ final attempt. Against Chula Vista, Clair-Williams — in a display of versatility — started the Titans' title game bid by stopping Young but the Spartans sealed their trip to the tournament final with four unanswered shootout goals, with Olaso, Flitcraft and Flores all scoring to tie the score at 3-3 and two-meter guard Jon Hamblin then notching the decisive shootout tally to give their team a 4-3 edge.

Hamblin had missed on his first shootout attempt against Hilltop. "After I missed the first one, I consulted with the rest of the shooters on the team. They got me pumped up. Right before that, Gregorio came up to me and told me I had to make it. I just took it and made it. I was amazed," Hamblin said.

Clair-Williams, Cruz and Justin Raya all led Eastlake with three shootout goals while Flores scored three times for Chula Vista.

In keeping with the bizarre twists of the tournament, it was then time for the winless Mariners to upstage everyone. Junior co-captain Joe Czerwiec led Mar Vista with seven goals while junior John Thero added six goals and junior Shawn Johnson scored twice. The Mariners also received goals from sophomore Noah Stamm, senior Juan Vera, freshman Julian Czerwiec and junior Josh Madigan. Senior co-captain Kyle Collins, pressed into goaltending duties for the day, held the Lancers to seven goals — three by senior flat David Watkins.

The long-coming victory struck an emotional cord with many players. "It feels damn good," said Mar Vista junior Andrew Allen, who scored once in the game against Hilltop and twice in the team’s 12-4 loss to Montgomery. "At last, at last."


Hibbard, Loitz lead Barons to playoff berth

Freshman Andrew Hibbard scored three goals and senior goalie Patrick Loitz dazzled onlookers with his precision outlet passing as the Bonita Vista High boys water polo team officially wrapped up the program's San Diego Section-record 15th consecutive league title with a 17-1 victory against Chula Vista in the championship game of this year's Metro Conference tournament, played Oct. 31 at Southwestern College.

As league champions, the Barons receive an automatic entry into the Division I playoffs that start Wednesday, Nov. 7.

Bonita Vista (15-11) built a 12-0 lead on the Spartans (6-18) as Hibbard, senior two-meter guard Andrew Henning and Mark Adato each scored two goals. Matching Henning and Adato with a pair of goals in the game were Nathan Golder and Joel Larimer. The Barons received goals from 11 players in the contest. Hibbard led the team in tournament scoring with nine goals.

Chula Vista sophomore Bryan Flitcraft broke Loitz's shutout bid with 2:07 to play in the third period on a power play. Flitcraft led the Spartans in scoring in the three tournament games with four goals and two assists.

Bonita Vista outscored its three tournament foes 43-2.

"We have improved throughout the season. We are playing our best water polo right now. That's where I wanted us to be. It will be a test now for us when CIF starts," Baron coach Dan Way said.

In the third-place game, Jose Serratos scored a season-high 11 goals to lead Montgomery to a 17-8 victory against Eastlake. Serratos' career high is 15 goals in one game. He finished the three tournament games with 18 goals.

The Aztecs received one goal from goalie Roberto Sandoval, who beat his counterpart on a long-range bomb in the final period. The goal was the third from the cage scored by Sandoval this season. Raul Curiel, Manlio Elazab and Aaron Romero each scored twice in the game for Montgomery.

"We had our ups and downs. Fortunately, we had our downs at the beginning of the season. One of our jobs as coaches was to unite the team," said Aztec head coach Giancarlo Nencini.

Eastlake's Nik Clair-Williams had three goals in the game to finish the tournament with 16 goals.



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