Roundup: El Capitan water polo holds off upset-minded Merced, advance to semifinals.

El Capitan junior Samantha Verinnder fires a shot during a playoff game against Merced on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019 at El Capitan High.
El Capitan junior Samantha Verinnder fires a shot during a playoff game against Merced on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019 at El Capitan High.

The El Capitan High girls water polo team is off to the semifinals.

The second-seeded Gauchos held off a second-half charge from No. 10 Merced to defeat the Bears 11-7 in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II semifinals on Thursday night at El Capitan High.

El Capitan (22-6) will face the winner of the St. Mary’s-Del Campo quarterfinal on Tuesday at 12:45 p.m. at Johansen High in Lodi.

“Merced played an outstanding game. They came to play,” said El Capitan coach Kristie Dunham. “Their outside defense was great. They double-teamed Kendall (Thomas) a lot. They did a good job moving in the front court. They played a great game.”

The Gauchos defense dominated the first half to give the Gauchos a 5-1 lead at intermission. Thomas scored two of her four goals in the first two quarters.

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El Capitan High junior Kendall Thomas fires a shot during the Gauchos’ 11-7 win over Merced in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019 at El Capitan High. Shawn Jansen

Anika Jones, Marlo Carpenter and Alexis Smith all helped build the lead with first-half goals.

The Bears (15-11) then opened the second half with back-to-back goals from Bailey Russell and Hannah Fernandes to cut the lead to 5-3.

Dunham immediately called a timeout.

To nobody’s surprise, Dunham drew up a play to get the ball to Thomas near the cage and the Gauchos star delivered a goal to extend the lead to 6-3 with 4:29 left in the third quarter.

Every team the Gauchos play focus their defense on Thomas, but she still finds a way to score.

“Luckily we have a lot of experience with that,” Dunham said. “Tonight we had a lot more balanced scoring with Anika Jones, Marlo and Alexis all scoring in the first half. Kendall has to work harder than everyone else just to get anything.”

El Capitan stretched the lead to 7-3 in the third quarter. Merced cut the lead to three goals twice the rest of the way, but the Gauchos held them off.

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Merced High senior Hannah Steele-Quevedo scores the Bears’ first goal of the game in the first quarter against El Capitan during a playoff game at El Capitan High School on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. Shawn Jansen

“I think we played our best game,” said Bears coach Seth Gentry. “I’m extremely proud. They did everything I asked them to do. We’re playing superior talent. We had a blue-collar like effort from our girls.”

The Bears’ Theresa Van Tassel, who drew the defensive assignment against Thomas, finished with nine steals. Sidney Hinman led Merced with two goals. Goalie Jaden Key had 13 saves.

Thomas finished with the four goals and five steals. Smith added three goals and two assists. Goalie Jenna Briggs stopped six shots in the cage.

Dunham is expecting a matchup with a talented, young St. Mary’s team.

“St. Mary’s plays really good defense,” Dunham said. “I’ve watched film of them. They have some really young players. They start all freshmen and sophomores so we’re hoping to out-experience them.”

Rio Americano 12, Buhach Colony 4 in Sacramento — The No. 8 seeded Thunder saw their season come to an end with a quarterfinal loss to the top seed in the Division II playoffs.