In a boys water polo battle between PAC 7 rivals in Arroyo Grande and San Luis Obispo high schools, the Tigers took an early lead after the first quarter with aggressive play at the net.
But at the urging of their coach, the Eagles (16-7, 5-1 PAC 7) fought back with conviction to pull away in the second half for an 11-6 win Tuesday.
The Tigers (13-11, 4-2) rocketed shots at the net in the second half but repeatedly ran into a brick wall in Arroyo Grande’s senior goalkeeper Chandler Mankins.
Mankins, at 6-foot-4, used his wide reach to block several Tigers’ shots, including skip balls, to protect the net in the second half. He recorded 12 saves in the game.
“He’s tall and lengthy and plays with great intensity,” Arroyo Grande coach Steven Allen said. “I especially liked that he saved a ball in the middle of the third and then stole the ball back from the player who stole it from him.”
On offense, the Eagles were led by Jack Empey’s four goals and Brock Johnson’s three scores.
Kyle Sweasey and Nick Eaton led the Tigers with two goals apiece. San Luis Obispo goalkeeper Ben Gaines logged seven saves in the league matchup.
“I think ejections hurt us in this one,” San Luis Obispo coach Randy Hower said. “Five of our guys had two ejections and that put us at a disadvantage.”
Ejections called by the referee for violations require water polo players to sit out for 20 seconds and a third ejection means they have to leave the game.
Hower noted that several of his players had to be mindful of their play to avoid a third violation, which may have cost them some aggression at the end of the game.
He credited Gaines with playing a good match and staying in the right positions, however, while having to fend off some one-on-one penalty shots.
After the first seven-minute quarter, however, it was the Tigers who seized the one-point lead at 3-2.
But the Eagles bounced back on a goal by Johnson, who hoisted his torso well out of the water, for a score at 4:30 in the second. Another shot by Taylor Ross just over the outstretched hand of Gaines at 1:12 in second gave the Eagles a 4-3 advantage going into the half.
The Eagles built a 7-3 edge while holding the Tigers scoreless in the third quarter with a series of nifty saves by Mankins.
A foul at 4:43 in the fourth set up a goal by the Tigers’ Sweasey to narrow the gap to 7-5. But that was as close as the Tigers got the rest of the way.
A goal by Empey with 4:05 left in the contest put the Eagles ahead 9-5 and secured the game.
Arroyo Grande closed out the game out with a final of 11-6, taking advantage of key penalties for easy scores in the fourth.
Hower said after the game that he believes his team, which finished third in the league’s regular season, can build momentum in the league tournament.
“I think we can compete with anyone,” Hower said. “We just have to control what we can and try to get ourselves in the right position in the pool.”
Allen said consistency is the key for his squad and maintaining focus going into postseason. The Tigers are second behind Righetti, the top-ranked Division 4 team in the CIF-Southern Section.
“We play well and we’ve had a good season,” Allen said. “Keeping that up throughout the game all season long has been the challenge. But overall, we’ve played well.”