The Los Banos boys water polo team clinched the program’s first-ever playoff spot a few games ago, but on Wednesday the Tigers set another milestone, completing an undefeated run through the Western Athletic Conference with an 8-3 win over Pacheco.
“To be honest, it feels really, really great,” Los Banos coach Darryl Barger said. “A lot of emotions going through – I mean, the ups and downs. This has been eight seasons without seeing a winning record. But to go undefeated in league, and to have a great group of guys... and a great group of JV players coming up that are going to carry on the tradition.”
LB jumped out to a 2-0 lead on goals from J.T. Barcellos (on a penalty shot) and David Melendez (off the rebound from another player’s shot), but Pacheco’s Matthew Cigolini kept the Tigers from running away, putting one in the back of the net with a minute left in the first quarter.
Pacheco didn’t score in the second, though, and LB’s Jared Benitez and Dalton Brooks each scored one.
“I’m super proud of all my teammates. They all performed top notch in this game,” said Los Banos goalkeeper Marcos Hedrick, who blocked 18 shots. “I’m really proud of all of them, and I can honestly say all of them are really close friends. It’s going to sound a little cliché, but it was an honor serving with them.”
Barcellos started the second half with a goal on a backhand shot, and Pacheco’s Diego Iyigun followed with a goal on a one-up situation to close the gap to 5-2. Barcellos led the Tigers with 3 goals, with his third, off a ricochet from his own shot, made it 8-2 with 4 minutes left in the game.
“They worked as a team. We didn’t have – and I use this term very loosely – but we didn’t have that kind of prima donnas where they thought they were better than everyone else,” Barger said. “Even though we did have people that are just as good as people in the past. As you can tell, they played as a team. That’s one thing that I feel that we did better than everybody else in the league.”
Despite the intensity of the rivalry game, the players joked with each other a few times throughout the game. Pacheco’s Leon Palao III saw that he was guarded by LB’s much bigger Andrew Reyes before the start of the third quarter, and quipped, “You see me under the water? I’m 5-foot, 110 pounds. Go easy. Anybody else want to take this guy? Anyone?”
But after the game, it was the Tigers who were all smiles, climbing out of the pool to bear-hug Barger and squirt him with water bottles.
LB’s season continues on Nov. 9, when the first round of the second playoffs begins at Whitney High in Rocklin. The section hasn’t released the brackets yet, but the Tigers know that whoever they face will be a step up in competition.
“They’re going to be fast – real fast. We’re going to work on our transitions for that,” Hedrick said. “And for me, they’re going to be shooting hard. Definitely going to be some 2-on-1 situations. That’s just part of the game. It’s going to be great stuff. Just the next level.”
Even though LB has never been to the playoffs, the Tigers have played some of the teams that will be in the bracket.
“The Ceres coach and I have talked about what our competition looks like. We foresee how good they are,” Barger said. “We’ll do our best. This is the first year, the first year for everything. But hey, we played against some of the best.”