The Merced High School boys water polo team took control early with five first-quarter goals and coasted to an 18-9 win over No. 9 seed Rodriguez of Fairfield on Tuesday evening in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs at Golden Valley High.
“We just played explosive, Bears offense,” said Alec Propes, who scored a game-high seven goals. “Abraham (Santana) and I did our thing. We put our shots away.”
Propes scored the first three goals in 1 minute, 33 seconds to give the No. 8-seeded Bears (18-11) a 3-0 lead. Hayden Giebeler and Spencer Fluetsch tacked on goals to give Merced a 5-0 lead after the first quarter.
The Bears didn’t have much of a scouting report on the Mustangs (19-7). All they knew was Riley Smith was the leading scorer with 127 goals.
“We eventually found out they were trying to do one thing,” Merced coach Kit Grattan said. “We focused our defense to try to stop that one thing, and that made it easier to defend.”
Smith scored two goals early in the second quarter to pull Rodriguez within 5-2. Santana, named the MVP of the Central California Conference, also had two early ejections so the Bears had to make adjustments on defense.
“I put Nick Eckles in on defense,” Grattan said. “Abraham wants to guard the hole set and play offense. He wants to do it all, but he couldn’t today. Nick is a good defender, too, and he did a good job. We went to more of a drop and crash, which isn’t something we practice a whole lot, but we were effective.”
Santana helped close the first half with two of his five goals to give the Bears an 8-3 lead.
Merced then put away the game with a 7-0 run that lasted most of the third quarter and built the lead to 15-3. Giebeler and Propes each scored two goals during the run, as the Bears hurt Rodriguez in transition for three easy scores midway through the third quarter.
“It was more about swimming there,” Grattan said. “We wanted to outswim them and be aggressive.”
Santana had six assists to go with his five goals. Giebeler had three goals, and Merced goalie Nathan Latronica made 16 saves.
Smith led Rodriguez with five goals.
Merced will face top-seeded Rio Americano (15-11) in the quarterfinals Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in Sacramento.
“It’s going to be tough,” Propes said. “We’ve done some research on them on MaxPreps. We don’t know too much about them, but we’re not going to go in scared. They are high school boys just like we are high schools boys. We’ll be ready to go.”