For the first time in the history of the boys' water polo program at Sacred Heart Prep, the Gators are back-to-back Central Coast Section champions. Sacred Heart, the No. 1 seed, wrapped up its second straight CCS championship on Saturday night with a 6-3 win over No. 2 Menlo.
With the win, the Gators (25-5) also avenged a loss to Menlo in the CCS championship in 2006, when Menlo defeated Sacred Heart 6-4.
"These kids work really hard. They train all summer . . . and I'm just really proud of the kids," said Sacred Heart head coach Brian Kreutzkamp.
For Sacred Heart, the biggest factor in their win was the outstanding play of junior goalie Ben Dearborn, who consistently denied Menlo's attempts on goal. Dearborn only let in two natural goals with Menlo's third coming on a penalty shot. Dearborn was peppered by shots all night from Menlo's attacks. By the end of the third quarter, Menlo (22-7) already had taken 24 shots. Yet Dearborn was able to parry away shot after shot, and frustrate Menlo's offensive efforts. Dearborn finished with 17 saves.
"He (Dearborn) is a very good athleteâ€¦ he really anticipates well. He knows where the ball is coming and he's fearless," said Kreutzkamp. "I love to watch him play. His energy is so high . . . and three goals in a CCS championship, you can't ask for more than that."
Sacred Heart's senior All-American Paul Rudolph was held to just one goal, his second-lowest total of the season. For Sacred Heart, he, at times, was used as a decoy, drawing several defenders to create openings for his teammates. As a result of this strategy, though Rudolph was limited, many of Sacred Heart's goals came from new sources.
"I was just really happy that my sophomores scored three of our six goals. They weren't cracking under pressure," said Kreutzkamp.
Menlo also actively game planed to limit Rudolph, using James Balassone to draw Rudolph away from action offensively. The Gators led all but the first 19 seconds of the game, when Robert Dunlevie scored the first goal of the game on Sacred Heart's first possession. Another possession later and Sacred Heart already had a two goal lead as Connor Still scored just over a minute into the game.
"I think that kind of set the tone for our team that we were really going to go after all the loose balls, work hard, and that just energized us," said Kreutzkamp.
From there, Sacred Heart clung to its lead, and though the Gators let the lead slip to just one goal three times, the defense and Dearborn came up clutch when needed. By halftime, Sacred Heart held a 4-2 lead after goals by Philip Bamberg and Rudolph for Sacred Heart and Balassone and Mark Hudnall for Menlo.
After the teams traded goals early in the third quarter on scores by Will Tashman of Menlo and David Culpan of Sacred Heart, the Knights looked to bring the game within one late in the fourth quarter, but were repeatedly denied by Dearborn.
Dearborn came up with a big save as Menlo came on a breakaway, and later stopped a shot from John Holland-McCowan as the quarter came to a close. With their two-goal lead still intact, Sacred Heart locked up the game when Dunlevie scored his second goal of the game early in the fourth quarter.
As the clock expired and Sacred Heart's 6-3 win became official, the players celebrated their second straight CCS championship and pushed Kreutzkamp into the pool.
For Menlo, the Knights will have to live with their variety of missed chances. In addition to some fantastic saves by Dearborn to stop point- blank shots by Menlo, the Knights also had multiple shot hit the crossbar and posts. Most notably, Gerrard Clark had a shot that would have tied the game 4-4 in the third quarter had it not rattled off the crossbar.
"We were just a little bit off tonight," said Menlo coach Jack Bowen. "Just about a quarter of a centimeter off, but we missed a lot of shots we usually make and against a team like Sacred Heart that is so good at capitalizing."
The Menlo-Atherton boys' water polo team came up with some crucial triumphs in the quarterfinals and semifinals of the Central Coast Section Division I playoffs, but the Bears couldn't pull off one more big triumph and fell to top-seeded St. Francis, 10-3, on Saturday in the section title match at Stanford's Avery Aquatic Center.
The Lancers (21-7) jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead before the No. 7-seeded Bears (16-14) tied it on goals by junior Eric Wright and senior Richard Hong. St. Francis then scored five unanswered goals to take a 7-2 lead in the third quarter.
When Menlo-Atherton junior Jed Springer scored moments later for a 7-3 game, that was all the offense the Bears had the rest of the game as St. Francis pulled steadily away.