The Merced girls water polo team continued its dominance of the Central California Conference, but this victory didn't come without a scare.
The Bears extended their conference winning streak to 36 straight with an 8-3 win over Golden Valley at Merced College on Wednesday night.
Merced needed a little wake-up call after falling behind 2-1 in the first half.
"We think we got a little caught up in the senior night and Golden Valley got the best of us early on," said Bears coach Ashley Phelps, whose team improved to 10-0 in the CCC. "Golden Valley scared us. I think we realized this was a serious game and we had to get going."
Cougars' goalie Audrey DeBard kept her team in the game early with some impressive saves throughout the game. DeBard helped hold Merced to just 1 of 9 shooting from the field in the first half and finished with 19 saves.
"Audrey had a nice game," said Cougars coach Bill Gossett, whose team dropped to 6-4 in the CCC. "She gave us some strong senior leadership."
The Bears speed took over in the second half as Laurel Carpenter broke free for two third-quarter goals to help Merced go up 4-2.
"It was definitely a wake-up call," said Carpenter, who finished with three goals and three steals. "We didn't come out overconfident. We're a humble team. We just have to work hard and play as hard as we can.
"I'm trying to help my team and use my speed. We knew a game like this was possible, but we had to win for our seniors."
The Bears pulled away in the second half with the help of three goals from Kathryn Elgin and a pair of goals from Jane Eckles.
"Laurel really got the team going," Phelps said. "After we were able to get a couple goals we were ready to go. Those were very crucial goals by her at an important time."
Both teams now wait to learn who they will face in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 playoffs starting next Friday at Johansen High.
"I think a game like this is good for us," Carpenter said. "It really opened our eyes. It makes us excited for the playoffs."
Buhach Colony 8
ATWATER Nicole Goodnight's four goals, three assists and five steals helped the Falcons (7-3 CCC) defeat the Thunder and finish second in the CCC. That's the highest Atwater has finished since 1996.
Amber Sanchez added three goals, six assists and four steals for Atwater.
Merced 18, Golden Valley 15
Isaac Santana scored seven goals as the Bears outlasted the Cougars.
The game turned when Cougars star Connor Hoppe picked up his second ejection late in the first half.
The Bears went on a 6-0 run with Hoppe out of the lineup to build a 13-7 lead midway through the third quarter..
Hoppe (seven goals) returned and helped Golden Valley cut the lead to 16-14 with 2:54 left in the game.
However, Merced put the game away with goals from Cagle and Christian Cortez.
Atwater 20, Buhach Colony 6
ATWATER The Falcons finished off a perfect 10-0 run through the CCC.
Josh Heller scored eight goals and assisted on six others. Ben Peterson added four goals and six assists.
Hans van Warmderdam had 12 steals for Atwater.
Kaden Verdin scored four goals for the Thunder (3-7 CCC).