By DOMINIC RIOS
The Redlands East Valley Water Polo team had a great run in CIF Division Two. The Wildcats finished as league champions with a 7-0 record and went into the Division Two playoffs as the number five seed only favored to win the first round. The Wildcats played Palos Verdes in their first round at home and performed as expected by winning with a score of 8-5. They then moved onto the quarter-final game against the Laguna Beach Breakers who defeated the Wildcats earlier in the season in the Steve Pal Memorial tournament with a score of 7-9.
The quarter-final game against the Breakers was a tough battle. The game against the Breakers was a back-and-forth defensive battle as each team struggled to gain the upper hand. In the first quarter, goalkeeper Harrison Land threw a pass to Maverick McMurtry to go up 1-0. In the second quarter, Chad Gornay assisted Michele “Michael” Sallustio, however the Breakers settled in and scored two goals to tie the game going into halftime. The Wildcats’ two goals in the third came from Gornay and Nick Flemington. In the fourth quarter, Flemington scored the go-ahead goal after receiving the pass from Gornay, but minutes later the Breakers had countered and scored to tie the game yet again. With the clock winding down, the Breakers called a timeout as they attempted to set up for the game-winning goal. Gornay stole the ball when the game resumed and the Wildcats called their own timeout hoping to score the game-winning goal as the game clock had less than a minute left. The Wildcats’ shot-clock looked to be expiring when with three seconds left the Breakers fouled Zach Arthur inside the five-meter boundary. Arthur quickly passed the ball out to McMurtry who caught the ball acting like he was about to shoot and then gave the ball back to Arthur who caught it dry, quickly turned and shot. The ball sailed through the air to the left side of the goal just outside of the goalie’s reach going in before the clock ran out on the Wildcats. The score ended 6-5 resulting in a remarkable upset as the Wildcats advanced to the semi-finals.
The Wildcats played the favored number-one seed, the Foothill Knights, in the semifinal game. From the moment the game began it became evident that the Knights were the statistically-favored team to win even though the Wildcats were the home team. The Wildcats’ main two-meter defenders Maverick McMurtry and Nick Flemington, and each had two out of their three allotted exclusions against them in the first two minutes of the first quarter. Even the Wildcats’ third guard Adain Behr had one exclusion in the first which forced all three players to play more cautiously for the rest of the game. Due to early exclusions, the Wildcats two-meter offensive player Zach Arthur had to change roles and play as the two-meter guard. For the rest of the game the Wildcats were penalized twice as often as the Knights. The Wildcats finished the game with 71 percent of the ejections.
Beyond what felt like dozens of advantages for the Knights, the Wildcats were gaining momentum during crucial times in the game. Foothill added an extra two players to the game who gave them the momentum back by calling contra-fouls and poor exclusions against the Wildcats. The Wildcats fought against all odds as hard as they could by coming back from being down 2-4 in the first quarter to closing the gap and being down 4-5 at halftime. Arthur scored a five-meter goal in the first and Gornay made a steal off of a deflected pass which he then passed to Flemington who scored. In the second quarter, Gornay assisted Arthur for a goal, followed up by Dominic Rios setting up Arthur with an entry pass, and he was able to score his third goal of the game.
In the third quarter, Gornay laid out another assist, this time to Behr, for his first goal of the game and then Gornay stole the ball and passed it to Behr for their second goal that quarter. However, as the Wildcats gained momentum when they were up an extra man, Foothill managed to block the ball and counter. Off of their counterattack, one of their players put on quite the acting performance by diving under McMurtry and coming up just past him where he began flailing to make it look like he was being held. Once he earned the call when the referee gave McMurtry his final kick out of the game he felt that it wasn’t enough so he decided to wrap his leg around McMurtry’s arm so when McMurtry went to put his hands up to show that he was being held the ref called a penalty shot against McMurtry, giving him his fourth out of the 3 alloted exclusions which the Knights capitalized on. In the fourth quarter, Flemington passed to Kyle Lambeth who scored a lob crosscage bar in and Behr passed to Arthur who scored his fifth goal of the game. Goalkeeper Harrison Land finished the game with 13 saves compared to the Foothill goalkeeper who only had seven.
The Wildcats will return with all seven of their starting players as they prepare for their senior year. Overall, the Wildcats had their best season ever with a record of 25-5, scoring nearly 300 goals this season and only allowing 150 goals in 30 games. The Wildcats are back-to-back undefeated league champions with a 20-0 record in league over 2 years and have moved up over the last three years from being the 2015-16 Division 5 CIF champions to 2016-17 Division 3 semifinalists to this year in the Division 1 and 2 crossover bracket where they were Division 2 semifinalists. This is the only team in REV’s history to go three consecutive years of being in the semifinals.