Scott Jackson could only shake his head in disappointment afterward. The Sobrato High girls water polo coach was helpless as the Bulldogs let a big lead slip away en route to a heartbreaking 10-9 loss to Aragon of San Mateo in a Central Coast Section Division II playoff opener last Saturday at Palo Alto High.
“Just a very tough loss,” Jackson said. “The girls played their heats out and we didn’t catch any breaks, but that is how water polo goes sometimes. Just a disappointing way to end the season. The girls are really sad because they were hoping to play at least one more game.”
For a while, it looked as if that was a foregone conclusion. The No. 2 seed Bulldogs (12-9) took what looked to be a commanding 6-2 lead when Helena Batey scored on a 6-on-5 advantage with 4 minutes, 46 seconds left until halftime. However, No. 7 seed Aragon (14-11) closed the second period by scoring four of the next five goals, cutting the deficit to one and preventing Sobrato from pulling away.
Sobrato answered and built a 9-6 advantage with 57 seconds left in the third. However, what happened next proved to be the theme of the match. Every time Sobrato had a chance to pull away, Aragon’s Maria Sell delivered a backbreaking goal, with the majority of them coming from well beyond five meters. Sell, who finished with a match-high seven goals, entered the contest having scored over 100 goals. The Aragon standout is known for scoring from long distance, and that’s exactly what she did, utilizing a Midas touch in getting the ball into the Sobrato cage.
“We knew they had one person No. 12 who was a really good player, and we were really trying not to let her take any shots,” Jackson said. “But she’s shooting from everywhere, and it’s hard to stop that.”
Indeed, one of Sell’s goals came from the mid-pool line, water polo’s equivalent of Steph Curry draining a shot from half court. Batey led Sobrato with four goals, but she picked up her third exclusion with 2:57 remaining, disqualifying her from the match. Sobrato led 9-8 at the time only to see Aragon tie things at 9-9 with 55 seconds to go before scoring the game-winning goal with 26 seconds remaining.
The Bulldogs had a couple of possessions in the last minute, but their offense stalled. Jackson called a timeout with around 20 seconds left and the team trailing 10-9. However, the team couldn’t get a shot off, sealing its fate. Aziza Calvert had three goals and Molly Foster two for Sobrato, which played airtight defense for most of the third period. The majority of Aragon’s 10 goals came beyond five meters.
At times, Sobrato showed the form of a team that finished second to powerhouse Leland in the Blossom Valley League’s Mount Hamilton Division. Batey rose out of the water to get shots off over multiple defenders, Foster got out for a breakaway goal and Calvert’s game sense and swimming skills put her and her teammates in position to score.
Despite the loss, Sobrato should be back in playoff contention next season. Even though the Bulldogs graduate a couple of key senior starters, they’ll return a strong core nucleus including Calvert, Foster, Annie Ly, Sara Magana, and Kylie Downing. While the team’s season-ending loss was painful, the Bulldogs can grow stronger from the experience.
“The girls will realize it was a successful season once the pain goes down,” Jackson said. “We lost a lot of seniors from last year’s team and had to build a new team. I’m really proud of how the girls played together. They’ve come a long way and even though we finished on a down note, there is a lot to be proud of.”