Boys’ water polo defeats Los Gatos 14-6 in first round of CCS

JJ Kadifa (14) winds up for a shot in the first round of the CCS playoffs. The Vikings won 16-4.

Scotty Bara

JJ Kadifa (’14) winds up for a shot in the first round of the CCS playoffs. The Vikings won 16-4.

On a chilly November evening under the home lights at Nort Thorton Memorial Pool, the Paly boys’ water polo team dominated Los Gatos High School 14-6  in the first round of the Central Coast Section (CCS) playoff tournament. The eighth-seeded Vikings knocked the ninth-seeded Wildcats out of the playoffs on the heels of a league tournament loss last week to the same team.

Los Gatos struck first in the game, putting away two goals in the first three minutes of play to take an early 2-0 lead.

“We didn’t start out very well,” coach Matt Johnson said, “but we stuck to the game plan and chipped away.”

Paly then took the reigns, responding with seven unanswered goals. The first came from Quinn Rockwell (‘13), who put Paly on the board.

Following a clutch save from goalie Brent Schroder (‘13), the Vikings continued to bounce back with successive breakaway goals by Bret Pinsker (‘13) and Sam Kelley (‘14), putting them in the lead at 3-2. Schroder made several more key saves, and goals from Brian Berry (‘13) and Michael Kori (‘13) gave Paly a 5-2 lead at the end of the first quarter.

The second quarter opened with strong defensive play from the Vikings, with Pinsker recording a block.

Three minutes into the quarter, Lucas Novak (‘15) lobbed a perfect pass to Rockwell, who kicked the ball into the Los Gatos cage, prompting an uproar from the robust Paly cheering section. Following a Wildcat ejection and time-out, Rockwell slammed the ball into the Los Gatos net once again to put Paly up 6-2. Kori found the back of the net 20 seconds later, increasing the Viking lead to five goals.

A Wildcat goal in the closing minute of the half was quickly followed by a cross from Christian Lantzsch (‘14) that Pinsker buried in the Los Gatos cage. Los Gatos got the final say with a goal in the last five seconds of the half, but with an 8-4 lead, the Vikings carried their momentum into halftime.

Paly came out strong in the second half, winning the sprint. After trading scoreless possessions, the Vikings recorded the first goal of the half 1:40 minutes in, bringing the score to 9-4. On a five-meter penalty shot two minutes later, Pinsker put Paly into double digits.

The quiet Wildcats showed some life with a strong offensive drive four minutes into the third quarter, ending with a goal to cut the score to 10-5. A later shot by a wide-open Wildcat was blocked by Schroder, and Pinsker scored on the ensuing drive to close out the third quarter at 11-5.

Paly scored thrice more in the fourth quarter. The lone Los Gatos goal in the quarter was too little, too late. The clock expired with the scoreboard reading 14-6 and the Viking victory went into the books.

Pinsker, a team co-captain, cited last week’s loss to the Wildcats as a key motivator in the game.

“We wanted to kind of just kill them,” Pinsker said.

With the victory, the Vikings moved on to the second round of CCS, where they will face the top-seeded Bellarmine Bells. Johnson recognizes that the team will need to bring its A-game if it is to upset the number one seed.

“We’ve got to slow them down,” Johnson said of Bellarmine. “They’re a fast team. [We’ve got to] make the most of our opportunities when they give them to us.”

The Vikings face the Bells on Saturday at 4 p.m. at Sacred Heart Preparatory in Atherton.