The Los Banos boys water polo team solidified its position at the front of the Western Athletic Conference with Wednesday’s 10-8 win over Ceres that was no less exciting than a 9-8 win over the Bulldogs earlier in the season.
The win put the Tigers, who have never even gone to the playoffs, one step closer to an outright WAC championship with two games remaining.
“We’ve been working all of our years in high school, just to build up to this moment where we can go undefeated – for now,” said senior David Melendez. “We have two more games, one away (Livingston) and our last home game (Pacheco). As a senior, that was huge for me.”
After going into halftime tied 4-4, Los Banos took control in the third quarter, jumping out to a 9-5 lead, finally getting somewhere against a vicious Ceres defense.
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“(Our strategy was) just staying wide, because I got mollywopped on top. I got destroyed,” said junior Jared Benitez. “And our hole set (Andrew Reyes) was a big part of this, because they wouldn’t front him, they would stay behind him, so he was open a lot. He got us those two points that won it for us.”
Ceres put three goals in the net in the fourth quarter, but Benitez’s goal with 4:59 remaining gave Los Banos just enough of a cushion. Ceres put 25 shots on target during the game, and LB goalkeeper Marcos Hedrick blocked 17 of them, while also playing an part of LB’s aggressive defense.
“At first glance, when you look at us, we’re just like a bunch of goofballs,” Benitez said. “But it’s coming together really well. The synergy is really good.”
Ceres had the lead early, taking a 2-1 lead after the first quarter. A third Ceres goal was waved off because the shooter was ineligible. Dalton Brooks tied it early in the second with a goal off a Benitez assist. When Ceres’s Zach Jones scored to give Ceres the lead again, J.T. Barcellos put one in for LB to tie it again about 3 minutes before halftime. The teams traded goals again, with Jones scoring at 1:46 and Brooks scoring at 1:20.
Los Banos coach Darryl Barger looked around at his players at the break and, before launching into strategy, gave his halftime speech.
“What, did you think this was going to be easy?” he said with a shrug.
Ceres coach Tracy Bull had words of encouragement as well following the third quarter when his players trailed 9-5.
“We average 15 goals a game,” he said. “We’re not out of this.”