In the first half, the Arroyo Grande High’s boys water polo team hung close to the top-seeded squad from Division 4 in a CIF-Southern Section semifinal Wednesday.
But after a goal by Eagles top scorer Jack Empey closed Arroyo Grande’s deficit to 4-3 early in the third quarter, Los Osos High of Rancho Cucamonga pulled away.
The Grizzlies (21-9) won 11-5 at the Cuesta College pool, ending a solid season by fourth-seeded Arroyo Grande (23-9).
The match marked the final high school game for Empey, who came into the match with 113 goals, making him the 19th-best scorer in California in goals per game, according to MaxPreps.com.
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Empey scored twice, and senior teammate David Vitt also scored twice in a physical contest that saw the Eagles snake-bitten by fouls and breakaways.
“We came in knowing they were a tough team,” Vitt said. “It was pretty simple. They lived up to their reputation. I’m proud of the team. We had a great season. No regrets.”
Two of the Grizzlies’ goals came with one man up, and Los Osos converted on counterattacks in a flurry of goals in the third quarter.
The Eagles’ fifth goal came from Casey Vandenberg in the final minute of the match.
Arroyo Grande’s goalkeeper Clint Doucette logged 10 saves, including some clutch stops in the first half that kept the score at 4-2 in favor of the Grizzlies after two periods.
Doucette made a couple of saves on point-blank shots from the Grizzlies in the first quarter by keeping his arms high and striking down on the ball on low blasts at the goal.
The loss had an eerily similar resemblance to the way Arroyo Grande’s season ended last year — with a 13-5 defeat in the semifinals to the same team.
Last year, the Eagles had a 4-3 lead in the third quarter before Los Osos went on a tear to build its margin.
The Eagles hadn’t made it to the semifinals since 2008 before last year and this year’s finish marked a back-to-back trip.
“We fought so hard,” Arroyo Grande coach Steve Allen said. “They just outgunned us at the end. We have a great group of kids. Many of these kids have played together on varsity for three years.”
Some of the other key seniors included Hissam El-Effendi and Brock Johnson, who recited a motivational speech in the pool with his teammates circled around him to pump up the team before the game.
Johnson had four steals in the match, and Arroyo Grande had seven total.
Empey said the season’s success came from good chemistry.
“We worked really well together,” Empey said. “We just know each other so well.”