There was an aura of confidence surrounding the Davis High boys water polo squad as they exited Arroyo Pool — a final time for much of the veteran roster — after besting Rio Americano on Thursday.
The Blue Devils edged the Raiders, 11-9, and in doing so, the locals preserved an unsullied 7-0 record as champions of the Delta Valley Conference. Given that it marked the conclusion of the regular season, Thursday also served as Senior Night for the team’s nine upperclassmen.
And those DHS seniors are a shrewd bunch, as evidenced by the clever strategies the veterans employed on offense. Heavily guarded seniors such as Garrett Fisk drew enough of the attention from Rio Americano’s defense to allow open shots from the outside, often by junior Bradley Nicholson early on.
Nicholson took advantage of expertly timed passes from his teammates, and his free rein, to tally up a hat trick before halftime. Between senior Valente Dolcini’s goal in the first quarter, and senior Graham Fullerton and Fisk’s own contributions in the second, the Blue Devils pulled ahead.
“We did a really good job in that first half,” Devil coach Tracy Stapleton said after his squad led 7-3 at halftime. “I was happy to see that we only gave up three goals against a really strong team.”
But he was less thrilled with what would occur in the third quarter, when Davis allowed two quick goals. The local offense slowed, with the distinctive metal reverberation of hitting the goalpost temporarily replacing the crowd’s cheers.
Eventually, Blue Devil freshman Cameron Wright found the net to make it an 8-5 game. Wright launched a high-arching ball not too far from the pool’s middle, which sailed just outside the reach of any potential intercepting defender.
Fisk also fired a bullet between the open palms of the Raiders goalie with 30 seconds remaining in the third period and DHS’ advantage once more climbed to four. However, 15 seconds later, Rio retaliated; their lefty, Ian Brady, completing his hat trick.
The final quarter, which began with the scoreboard reading 9-6, again kicked off with a pair of goals from the visitors. Pivotal in ensuring there weren’t more was Devil junior goalie Jeff Stark, who rocketed up and out of the water to make two key saves in the period — to bolster the four saves that he had already tallied in the match.
But Rio Americano found the strength to power through Stark’s impeccable stops with a little over a minute remaining in the game. Though Fisk landed another goal, Davis clung to a 10-9 lead.
The tension climaxed with Nicholson’s goal, which he scored with only eight seconds left on the clock. The jubilation of this moment and the subsequent 11-9 win was a nice end to the 2013 regular season.
“It’s a competitive game, a high-spirited game, a physical game and an emotional game,” Stapleton said. “And, thankfully, we prevailed, but we still have some things that need cleaning up.”
The Blue Devils will have more than a week to fine-tune, then will take the pool in defense of their 2012 Sac-Joaquin Section title. This year’s tournament opens Nov. 9 at Johansen High in Modesto.
— Reach Brett Johnson at [email protected] or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett.