The San Benito High boys water polo team was in a titanic struggle with visiting Monterey on Tuesday. Needing a victory to have a realistic shot of winning a league championship, the Haybalers fell behind by a goal midway through the third period after jumping out to a 4-1 lead.
If was gut-check time, and Balers coach Brendan Sigourney knew it. Having lost to San Lorenzo Valley by a goal the week before, San Benito needed to buckle down and come through in a close match.
“We’ve had some close losses in tournaments, and we needed to play well in the fourth quarter,” Sigourney said.
And that’s exactly what the Balers did, as they held off a tough Monterey squad, 8-6, in a key Monterey Bay League Pacific Division match. San Benito improved to 6-1 in division play, dealing Monterey its first league loss in the process. San Lorenzo Valley remains in first place with no losses in league action.
“It’s nice to get this one and grit it out,” Sigourney said. “We needed to keep it together at the end.”
Only the Pacific Division champion earns an automatic berth into the Central Coast Section playoffs, and in all likelihood the race will come down to San Benito, Monterey and San Lorenzo Valley. San Benito received all of its goals against Monterey from three players. Zander Bonnet and Josh Corrigan had three goals each, and Oliver Garcia two.
The Balers led 4-1 after the first quarter only to see Monterey score four unanswered, taking its only lead of the game, 5-4, with 5 minutes, 41 seconds remaining in the third period. With Monterey seemingly having turned the tide of the game, San Benito looked in trouble.
However, the Balers dug deep and was determined not to lose. With 4:33 left in the third, Bonnet got the equalizer after he rose out of the water and slammed the ball into the back of the Monterey backstop, an emphatic goal that came when he was left in a rare position of being one-on-one with a defender in the hole set position.
With 2:12 left in the third and the Balers on a 6-on-5 advantage, Ceily Hepner delivered a perfect cross-pool pass to Bonnet on the left side. Bonnet rifled a shot to the backstop for a 6-5 lead. Moments later, Monterey had a golden chance to tie things up; however, Balers goalie Casey Matsui made a terrific point-blank save to preserve the lead.
Matsui made several dynamic saves throughout, coming up with at least a couple of saves on shots that would’ve scored against most goalies.
“Casey has been huge for us this season,” Sigourney said. “He played club ball with Legacy (in Monterey), and it shows. It’s nice we have a comfort zone knowing we can get away with a couple of bad defensive plays, and he’ll hopefully come up with some key stops. Casey has improved dramatically from last year.”
Entering the final quarter with a one-goal lead, San Benito took control with goals from Corrigan and Oliver Garcia, whose shot from 8 meters away made it 8-5 with 1:37 to go. Monterey scored with 1:18 left, but the Balers got another key defensive stop to essentially seal the outcome.
“With 11 seniors on the roster, the Balers know it’s now or never to win that elusive league title. They’ve come close in recent years, only to be denied time and again. For San Benito, it’s all about staying together and cutting down on its mistakes.
“We have a talented group of kids, and they can look very good at times,” Sigourney said. “But the mistakes are still there, and we’ll need to improve on those to take things to the next level. We need to put it all together for four quarters.”
The Balers want to make teams pay for double-teaming Bonnet at the hole-set, and they’ve been able to do it on occasion.
“Josh Corrigan had a big game, and we’re looking for more of our athletes to take advantage when they’re crowding Zander,” Sigourney said. “Josh has been a big leader stepping up for us, Oliver has a big shot, and I wish Ceily would shoot more. I’d like to see more of our players stepping up when their defender leaves them to help defend Zander. If we can do that, we’ll be really strong in the second half of the league season.”