By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online
Brian Kreutzkamp had been battling illness this past week, along with a handful of his players on the Sacred Heart Prep boys' water polo team. The last thing Kreutzkamp needed to do on a cold day was jump into a swimming pool.
But, that comes with the job when your team wins a Central Coast Section Division II championship, which is exactly what the Gators did on Saturday with a 7-4 victory over Los Altos at Independence High in San Jose.
The title for the top-seeded Gators (19-10) was the fifth in program history and the team's fourth in the past five years. Sacred Heart has now appeared in nine straight championship games since winning its first title in 2003.
Third-seeded Los Altos (20-6), meanwhile, was making its fourth appearance ever in the title match and the first since 2001. The Eagles are 0-4 in finales.
Los Altos, which eliminated defending champion Menlo School in the semifinals, appeared to have a decent shot at upending Sacred Heart Prep -- given the Gators' recent illnesses and semifinal results.
"It's been quite a week," said Kreutzkamp. "Against Soquel (in the semifinals), it was our worst defensive game of the year as we gave up the most goals (13) of the season. Today, we played our best defensive game of the year, giving up the fewest goals of the year."
A big reason for the standout defensive effort by SHP was junior goalie Will Runkel, who was credited with 17 saves.
"When he (Runkel) plays that well, we're hard to stop," Kreutzkamp said.
Runkel set the tone early after SHP junior Michael Holloway scored the first of his game-high three goals and senior Kyle Koenig added another for a 2-0 lead. Runkel blocked a shot during a Los Altos 6-on-5 situation, blocked a shot during a one-on-one and then blocked a point-blank shot.
When Holloway scored again on a 6-on-5, the Gators held a 3-0 first-quarter lead. The Eagles battled back to tie at 3 on goals by Adam Warmoth, Ian McColl and the first of two by Kevin Stangl.
SHP sophomore Harrison Enright made it a 4-3 game on another 6-on-5 goal with 1:22 left in the third quarter. When Los Altos lost its big 2-meter man, Matt Orton, to his third ejection early in the fourth quarter, the Gators took advantage of the 6-on-5 with Holloway scoring for a 5-3 lead.
SHP junior Bret Hinrichs scored a pair of fourth-quarter goals to hold off the Eagles, who got only one goal combined from its top scoring tandem of Warmoth and Orton.
Kreutzkamp said the difference between giving up 13 goals to Soquel and four to Los Altos was returning to its normal style of play.
"Against Soquel, we were leaving too early (on a counter-attack) and not staying true to our game," said Kreutzkamp, whose team played more conservatively on Saturday.
"At halftime, I got a feeling for the game and realized it was going to be a defensive battle," Kreutzkamp said.
Neither team allowed the other to break away on the counter, thus the match turned into a halfcourt type of of game with each squad trying to earn kickouts and 6-on-5 advantages. The Gators wound up scoring five goals on man-up advantages.
"I'm comfortable with that," Kreutzkamp said of playing a half court game. "I knew we could get six to eight goals if we slowed it down. If we get out and counter-attack, we can get 10 or more."
While the Gators finished with 10 losses this season, their most while reaching a CCS final, Kreutzkamp was more than pleased with how the season turned out.
"We started two seniors," he said of Koenig and Max McKelvy. "They exceeded my expectations. Our goal was to get through league and get to this game."
The championship? It was just icing on the cake.