Balers hammer down No. 1 seed for TCALs

Derek Kisling raised his arms in triumph after his Hollister
High girls water polo team’s 7-4 win over Live Oak gave the Balers
their first-ever undefeated league season.
Derek Kisling raised his arms in triumph. His Hollister High girls water polo team squeezed the Acorn juice out of Live Oak at the Baler Splash Center Thursday, winning by a score of 7-4. It was the first time a Baler team has ever finished the league season undefeated.

“It was a big win for us,” said Kisling, in his fifth season. “Defense did it for us. Live Oak was faster than us, so we had to look out for each other and get back on defense.”

The Balers (19-9, 7-0 Tri-County Athletic League) still have a ways to go. The eight-team TCAL tournament starts Tuesday with the Balers holding the No. 1 seed for the first time ever. Live Oak (21-7, 7-1) is the No. 2 seed. Odds are real strong the two teams will square off once again a week from Saturday in the championship game to be held at Live Oak at 2 p.m.

“It’s a pretty good chance it will be us and Hollister in the title game,” said Acorns coach Brian Traverso. “They were the only close game we had. It was a good defensive game. We shot ourselves in the foot with bad passing and not shooting.”

“It will be their pool,” said Kisling, noting the Acorns’ home pool advantage. “It’s a bigger, wider pool.”

Whistles were plentiful and both teams were assessed more than their usual amount of power plays. The Balers did the better job of their 6-on-5, scoring three times to the Acorns one. Live Oak had trouble getting good shots off, in general, which could be attributed to stingy Baler defense.

Long-armed Britta Nordstrom had eight steals to go with two goals, while Janelle Brandon had three thefts and a goal. It was a fitting effort for the Balers’ only two seniors who were playing their last home game of their careers.

“I’ll miss this,” said Nordstrom. “I like to win and Live Oak is our rival.”

“We’ve really worked hard,” added Brandon. “Ever since last Monday were pumped up, preparing for Live Oak.”

Nordstrom, usually the team’s sprinter, was strategically moved to the middle by Kisling. The Acorns won every sprint because of it, but it really didn’t cost the Balers.

“We wanted her right away defending on their top scorer,” said Kisling.

That would be freshman Ronni Gauschi, whom Traverso estimated had scored “70 or 80 goals this year.” Gauschi had just one Thursday. That was largely due to the spectacular play of goalie Erin Reed, who had 10 saves, many remarkable. Reed began the match with a tough save on a one-on-one situation. The Balers drew first blood with Jordan Telles dished to Kathryn Adamek for 1-0 at 6:08 in the first.

After a four minutes of scoreless play, Jenna DeCoite hoisted a long shot from just short of the mid-pool area. The ball went off Acorns goalie Danielle Maldonado’s hands for 2-0 Balers at 1:52.

Reed foiled a pass early in the second quarter and tossed a long lead pass to Nordstrom, who broke free behind the Acorns’ line of defense. Nordstrom hesitated on Maldonado, then rifled one into goal for 3-0. With less than a minute left in the half, Telles fed Nordstrom in front of the Acorns net and Nordstrom gave the Balers a 4-1 lead at the intermission.

Fifty-five seconds after the Acorns sliced the Balers lead to 4-2, Telles dished to Adamek, who tallied her second goal of the match. Stacey Lass quickly intercepted an Acorns pass, swam ahead and scored just 16 seconds later. That goal sealed the Acorns’ fate even though there was over 10 minutes left to play. Brandon’s goal on a Baler power play with 2:15 left finalized the scoring.

The Balers are only three victories away from their second straight league championship. Kisling is only three victories away from another head-over-heels flip into the pool.

Baler bits: The Balers play Tuesday at home, then Thursday at Santa Catalina before the tournament moves to Live Oak on Saturday… Following the match, members of the Balers team sang “Happy Birthday” to teammate Amy Abbass, whose birthday was Friday. Cupcakes were dutifully passed… Former Baler polo player Lacey Sutton, now playing for Cal State Hayward, was in attendance.

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