WATER POLO: Fourth-quarter surge lifts GHS girls over rival Balers, 13-12

Senior Leah Ailes takes a shot during Wednesday's victory over

HOLLISTER – With a combined 11-0 record in the Tri-County
Athletic League this season, something had to budge Wednesday
afternoon in Hollister.
HOLLISTER – With San Benito and Gilroy a combined 11-0 in the Tri-County Athletic League this season, something had to budge Wednesday afternoon in Hollister.

One team had to lose — and it took until the last possible second to find out.

In a game that held postseason tournament implications, one team’s Senior Day and a rivalry as thick as prison walls, the San Benito and Gilroy girls water polo teams showcased why they are the elite teams in the TCAL this season.

The Balers (6-1 TCAL) watched a two-goal, fourth-period lead slowly evaporate and turn into a GHS one-goal advantage with one minute to play.

San Benito’s Sarina Schekenburger’s last-ditch effort from mid-pool with two seconds left glanced off of the crossbar as the final buzzer sounded, giving the Mustangs a thrilling 13-12 win and the inside track to the No. 1 seed at the TCAL postseason tournament in two weeks.

“It’s not like us to lose it in the fourth quarter,” said senior Lauren Lango, who played her final home match of her prep career. “We are sad that we lost but the season isn’t over. Our team is so close, so this won’t bring us down.”

The win moves the Mustangs to 6-0 in league with two home matches to play next week.

“I’m pretty sure this is what we will see at the end,” GHS head coach Sean LaGuardia said, forecasting a probable TCAL Tournament championship game rematch with the Balers. “We are going to prepare for them.”

The top three teams coming out of the league tournament advance to the Central Coast Section playoffs.

“That game was won all by heart,” LaGuardia said. “After that first quarter I was really worried because it didn’t look right. But that fourth quarter looked more like the way we play. This defense is going to dictate how we do.”

The Balers led for much Wednesday’s physical match, staking to a 4-3 lead after the first period and a 6-4 cushion at the break. The gap remained two goals at 10-8 in the Balers’ favor by the time the fourth period rolled around.

Gilroy’s Chelsea Hill was the prime target of the Balers’ defense, and for three quarters the senior was held to just three goals, shadowed by Lango everywhere in the pool.

“Lauren did a phenomenal job, but we needed help,” San Benito head coach Hayley Vandercook said. “We know coming in that we have to stop Chelsea. I think we did a great job against her most of the time but they played better in the fourth quarter.”

Hill scored four of the Mustangs’ final five goals in the fourth.

Gilroy’s Francesca Comin delivered a spot-on, cross-pool pass from the right wing to Nicole Nelsen, who fired the game-tying goal past Marieke Liem with 3:41 to play.

On the Balers’ ensuing possession, Gilroy’s Michelle Shields came away with a steal. Shields’ shot was saved at point-blank range by Liem, however, and Hill snagged the rebound and buried the ball for a 12-11 Mustangs lead. Hill deposited a much-needed insurance goal, which made it 13-11 with 1:48 showing on the clock.

Schekenburger beat GHS goalie Devan Lauber with :59 seconds to go but the Mustangs were able to gobble up precious time and eke out the win.

“We had to be fired up, we had to get going and get pumped up,” said senior co-captain Leah Ailes, who kick-started the Mustangs with a first-quarter goal that put the Mustangs up 1-0 — the only lead GHS held until the fourth. “They were crossing. We knew it was coming but we had to focus more and we did.”

The Balers wrap up the regular season at Carmel next Thursday. The Mustangs host Notre Dame and Stevenson on Monday and Wednesday, respectively. The TCAL tournament begins Nov. 1.

San Benito goals:

Sarina Schnekenburger – 5

Lindsay De La Torre – 3

Hannah Smith – 2

Jeanett Rodriguez – 1

Beka Torres – 1

Gilroy goals:

Chelsea Hill – 7

Francesca Comin – 1

Lauren Rhodes – 2

Nicole Nelsen – 1

Leah Ailes – 1

Michelle Shields – 1

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