The Pacheco High School boys water polo team etched its name into the local history books Wednesday by becoming the school's first team in any sport to secure a playoff spot.
The Panthers punched a ticket to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs with a 9-7 win over cross-town rival Los Banos at Pacheco in the newly-named Eggbeater Cup. The win grabbed second place in the Western Athletic Conference, which sends two teams to the playoffs. League-champion Ceres took the top spot.
The first round of the playoffs is Nov. 1 at Woodcreek High School.
"It's an amazing milestone," Pacheco coach Josh Weinberger said. "And to be a part of it, I'm overwhelmed."
Two players led the way for the Panthers -- one from the front and one from the rear. As the team's last line of defense, goalkeeper Spencer Heaton blocked 13 shots.
"I think everybody, the seniors especially, this is their last league game, so we all just came together as a defense," Heaton said. "Strong wall, tight defense. They just couldn't get past it."
The combination of a vicious Pacheco defense and Heaton's quick reflexes kept LB's dangerous shooters at bay just enough.
"I feel like Spencer's unstoppable sometimes. I can't critique him, I can't tell him anything. I've just got to let him be. He's the best goalie I've ever seen," Weinberger said. "When he gets his head in the game, it's magic.
"I've seen him just arms straight out, and the ball comes, and he makes this little 4-degree change in the angle of his arm and blocks the ball. Most goalies come up, it goes under their arm and it's done. He makes these quick corrections in the middle of his jump, and it's just amazing."
Meanwhile, teammate Daniel Judson scored six goals on the other end against new Los Banos goalkeeper Abraham Aguilar, with the starter out at an FFA function.
"We were excited because we beat them the first time. We were ready to sweep the Tigers," Judson said. "For one, we got to the playoffs, and two, Tigers are our only rivals, and we beat them twice, so you know, it's senior year, and it's exciting."
The loss kept Los Banos out of the playoffs for another year, a streak that stretches to the beginning of the nine-year LB water polo program, according to Los Banos coach Darryl Barger.
"We beat Ceres, then we played Ceres again and three people are at FFA again. We go play again, people are at FFA. It's an FFA bug," Barger said. "But that's no excuse. It was a good game. Loud game."
The game was as physical as either team has played this year, with defenses swarming, at least one player coming up with scratch marks on his chest and kickouts left and right.
"You always expect it in water polo. It's not something you shy away from. It's perfectly fine with me, I mean, I played physical," Barger said. "That goes to the interpretation of the referee. If referees are calling a violent game, then they'll stay with a violent game. It looks like these two, they always like the violent game."
Before the game, Weinberger held up a plaque with a 1920s-style manual eggbeater attached, declaring the final meeting of the rivals the Eggbeater Cup as a testament to the sportsmanship of the rivalry.
"Really what a lot of people forget is that we both come from Los Banos," Barger said, "and that's a good thing."
Tiger girls prevail
LB's girls water polo team put a stamp on its WAC championship season with a 19-0 shutout over Pacheco. LB goalkeeper Sydney Gerstenberg blocked 12 shots to preserve the shutout.
The Tiger offense, meanwhile, spread the scoring around, with Alex Marquez's 6 goals leading the way. Mackenzie Hurley, Taylor Brooks and Alexis Borrego each added three goals, while Alyssa Luna assisted on six.
Enterprise reporter David Witte can be reached by phone at 388-6565 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org