After sluggish start, Merced boys cruise in water polo tournament

Water polo win sends Bears to face Davis-Yolo

jcortez@modbee.comNovember 10, 2013 

— After one period of Saturday morning's Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 water polo playoff match between the Downey and Merced boys, Bears coach Kit Grattan was not happy with his players' defensive effort.

And he let them know about it.

"I thought it was soft," said Grattan, whose team won 22-10 at Johansen High and will face Davis-Yolo today at noon at Tokay High in Lodi. "I thought Downey was fairly successful early in the match getting the ball in. I got after 'em a little bit, and the second quarter was much better."

Even though Merced increased the defensive pressure, Downey scored as many goals — two — in the second quarter as it did in the first.

"We weren't playing team defense early on," said senior Matt Cagle. "I was a little nervous at the start ... not nervous about winning or losing, but just about playing well."

The emphasis on tighter "D" led to increased scoring opportunities for the press-and-counter Bears.

"Our offense always comes out of our defense," said Grattan, who earned his first-ever postseason victory as a varsity water polo coach. "Once we picked it up, our offense got going."

Holding a 5-2 lead after the first quarter, Merced failed to score on its first five possessions of the second, but they closed the stanza on a 7-2 run — highlighted by three goals from Josh Fluetsch.

The Knights went to backup goalie Cole Thomas to start the second half, and the Bears treated him just as rudely as they treated starter Michael Hicks. Fluetsch, Cagle and Abraham Santana scored in the opening minutes to build a double-digit cushion at 14-4.

"We don't play a lot of teams like that in the (Modesto Metro Conference)," said Downey coach Tim Vesey, whose team won a league championship for the first time since the school began playing water polo four decades ago. "But it was a great season for us. I'm satisfied with how it turned out. We made a great run here at the end."

Now, that's what the Bears will try do — make a run at the end of the season.

"We feel confident because we've played these (playoff) teams before and we know what they like to do," said senior Christian Cortez. "It will be a challenge to hang around, but we're confident we can play with them."

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