Davis High coach Tracy Stapleton knew that nothing but the best from his boys water polo team would suffice in the Sac-Joaquin Section championship game against rival Jesuit.
And so the Blue Devils gave it their earnest best, and triumphed over the Marauders, 13-9, to win their second straight section title at Roseville Aquatics Center on Saturday.
It was revenge for the eight graduating seniors on the DHS roster, who faced off with Jesuit on the same stage in 2010 and 2011 — only to come away as runners-up both times. The Devils beat Granite Bay to win the 2012 SJS championship.
“A lot of these guys played big minutes for three years before this,” Stapleton said. “People don’t remember two years ago them losing here, but those experiences create opportunities to learn.”
Local junior Bradley Nicholson, who saw one of those losses as a freshman, got the action underway on Saturday by tallying a goal just 40 seconds into the game. He added another a few minutes later.
Cameron Wright, a freshman with none of that history to call on, must have surprised the Marauders by bolstering Nicholson’s goal with a hat trick. This shrewd duo of Blue Devils used tactical skip-shots to bypass the waving arms of the Jesuit goalie.
JHS senior Evan Mattern, who would go on to score three goals himself, was the lone contributor from the other side of the pool, which put the Marauders at a 5-1 deficit after one period.
The second quarter was comparatively sluggish, with both teams buckling down on defense to keep each other from scoring more than one goal each. The single DHS tally was a product of Garrett Fisk, who flung a hard shot between the arms of Jesuit’s netminder.
But the silence before halftime, at which the score stood at 6-2, was broken when Blue Devil Graham Fullerton sent a ball crashing into the Marauder goal within the first minute of the third quarter.
Though Fullerton’s goal was followed by two more from his allies — Valente Dolcini and Nicholson — Jesuit similarly capitalized on openings between Jeff Stark’s otherwise impenetrable goalkeeping.
Tension built as the squads concluded the third quarter at a more precarious score of 9-6. The crowd, impassioned by a closer game, grew in volume. The Jesuit fans became especially vocal as an SJS official red-carded their head coach for arguing a call, forcing him out of the venue.
Also ousted was Mattern, the Marauders’ go-to attacker, who couldn’t re-enter the game after he was tagged with his third ejection foul. This locked up the offensive potential of Jesuit’s squad, which scored only two goals in the fourth quarter to four for DHS.
These four goals — courtesy of Nicholson, Fullerton, senior Tyler Ujifusa and Wright — allowed the Devils to crawl back from the hairy 9-8 split they had found themselves in earlier in the final period.
“There were some hiccups along the way, but we really finished the game well,” Stapleton said. “Our team demonstrated some maturity. We bounced back from our errors when we needed to, and I attribute that to experience.”
The result gave Blue Devils the 15th section championship in program history and, nine of them under Stapleton. Afterward, he recounted the 2013 squad’s path to progression:
“This team really worked for it, and it’s great to see that pay off for them. There’s no question that I put pressure on them. I try to draw out the best in them, to get them out of their comfort zone. That being said, I think they’re pretty pleased with the result.”
— Reach Brett Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett