WATER POLO: Cougars, Mustangs split matches in the pool

In a clash of hometown rivals, Gilroy High School hosted the girls and boys water polo teams from Christopher High School on Tuesday.
The girls started off the evening with a match that, at first, looked like it would be hard-fought and close the whole way.
With two-and-a-half minutes to play in the first quarter, the teams were tied at 2-2. But In the end, Christopher outplayed Gilroy, beating them 8-6.
Christopher senior Kaitlin Ramirez went on a tear, scoring three unanswered goals in the first quarter, to stretch the lead, and two more through the next three quarters to total six on the afternoon. Hanna Marquez had the other two goals for the Cougars.
Christopher’s defense was also dominant, forcing the Mustangs to take a majority of its shots from the perimeter. Most of these shots were either errant or blocked by goalie Bella Marquez, who had a solid performance in front of the net.
“We picked it up in the fourth quarter, but it was just too late,” said Travis Gamble, the girls Gilroy High School coach. “We did not play with much urgency for most of the game, and so the shot clock really limited how good of a shot we could take.”
Katie Clark, a junior, took most of the shots for the Mustangs, but found penetrating the Christopher defense extremely difficult.
“Communication is really important, and we could have done better at it,” said Clark, who had two goals. “We were not moving around enough to get the ball deeper into their defense and it forced us to take a lot of bad shots.”
The Mustangs did improve as the game went on, making adjustments on defense that stifled Cougars’ scoring.
“[Gilroy] played tough,” Ramirez said. “They were playing good defense in the front of the goal and never let me have an easy goal.”
Ramirez is now second in the Monterey Bay League with 72 goals. And to think, three years ago the returning first-team all-leaguer was a timid at the offensive end.
“A couple of years ago, I did not play with much confidence,” she said. “Our coach wanted us to shoot more, but I did not think I could make a shot, so my mom said she would pay me five dollars every time I make.”
That incentive aside, Ramirez and the Cougars are now 8-3 and in third place in the MBL Pacific Division under first-year head coach Jim Shuster.
“We did what we wanted to do, and that was to shut their shooters down,” Shuster said. “Doing that, we were able to play with more confidence on offense.”
Abby Kinle, Megan Nebesnick and Brittany Salcido scored for Gilroy.
The doubleheader was capped by the boy’s water polo game, which was fast-paced, as each team quickly moved from defense to offense to try and out-position the other for a quick score.
However, by the half, it was evident that the solid play of Gilroy’s goalie, senior Tommy Cox, and the great offensive and defensive play of senior Garrett Pipkin were too much for Christopher to overcome. The Mustangs imposed their will on Christopher to grab a 13-6 victory.
“Individually, and as a team, we did not play well,” CHS head coach Paul Wells said. “We were trying to grandstand and took too many trick shots. It just looked like no one was trying to work as a team. We also had some really, really silly turnovers, which hurt.”
Though Wells was critical of how his team played, he also had to give credit to Gilroy for playing so well.
“I know we are a much better team than we played today,” Wells said. “But give Gilroy credit, they played a great game. That No. 9, that kid killed us. We could not control him.”
That No. 9 was Pipkin. Not only did he score five goals for the Mustangs, but also he played shutdown defense on Christopher’s best offensive threat, Matt Higginbotham.
“I knew I had to be the leader out there, and that’s what I did every quarter,” Pipkin said. “All I did was try and lead by example and had a good game in the process. However, without Tommy, it would have been a totally different game.”
Cox, who is playing his first year of water polo, played a solid game at goalie. His quick reflexes and heads up play were the main reason why Christopher could not cut into the Mustangs’ lead.
“I’ve just taken my basketball knowledge and applied it to water polo,” explained Cox. “Its really has helped me organize the defense and call out plays during the match.”
Brendan Reimer had three goals, Sam Mandel chipped in two, and Joe Vanni and Daniel Fisser had one for the Mustangs. Christopher’s Brennan Wilson, Jamie Walling, Gordy Papalias, Chris Spohr and Higginbotham scored for Christopher.
Christopher’s boys and girls have one more league game versus Santa Cruz on Wednesday night. Both teams will be in the MBL postseason tournament, where a bid into the Central Coast Section playoffs will be up for grabs.

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