By Mark Powers
The section championship game … a setting unlike any other. Effort is never a question, intensity is taken up through the roof, and fans that hadn’t been to a game all season come out, all because the ultimate prize is on the line, that simple piece of blue thread. But that blue banner means so much more to the players and the schools that they represent. Teams work hard all season with just one goal in mind, to get a shot at winning that banner and calling themselves section champions. After beginning grueling practices in early August, the men’s water polo team reached the Sac-Joaquin Division III championship game with a thrilling semi-final win over Oakdale and now just the Sonora Wildcats stood between the Falcons and that blue banner for the second straight year. Last season, the boys reached the title game for the first time and won the program’s first banner, defeating Sonora 6-4.
After getting off to a sluggish start in the semifinals, the Falcons made sure not to make the same mistake, as CB dominated the first quarter. Sam Noonan (’20) began the scoreing three and a half minutes into the game, bolting down the pool and flipping the ball past the goalie to give the Falcons an early 1-0 lead. In practices leading up to the title game, the Falcons remarked about how Sonora had allowed Ripon to score six goals off of rebounded shots in Sonora’s semi-final win. Clearly, Nick Piper (’19) was paying attention, as he scooped up Jason Carrey’s (’18) blocked shot and flicked it into the back of the net with just one second to go in the first, giving the Falcons an early 2-0 lead. In addition to the two first quarter goals, the first period was highlighted by incredible defense by the Falcons, especially a very smart play by Nick Smith (’18) to take an ejection as the Wildcat center had received a pass in perfect position to score. Smith’s ejection prevented a goal and the Falcon six on five defense picked him up, forcing a poor shot that was easily saved by goalie Luc Versperien (’19).
Great defense continued in the second quarter, as center back Luke Sorensen (’19) completely silenced Sonora’s center. The sophomore sensation Noonan made it clear that he was not struggling with any butterflies in his first career section title game. He posted up his man at six meters and skipped a shot just over the goalies outstretched arms, giving the Falcons a 3-0 lead with three minutes to go in the second. The Falcons continued to play suffocating defense, but the defense became a little too suffocating for the referees liking, as he called Piper for swimming over a man, giving the Wildcats a man up opportunity with a minute to go in the first half. The Wildcats didn’t waste this golden scoring chance, as their lefty snuck a shot past Versperien and pulled the Wildcats within two.
In the third, the Falcon attack became stagnant, and spacing became an issue for the high flying Falcon attack. The Wildcat offense hit their stride in the third, scoring two goals to draw even with the Falcons at three goals a piece, shocking what had become a very confident Falcon rooting section. The young gun Noonan briefly calmed the nerves of every Falcon fan, again racing past the defense and securing a go ahead counter attack goal in the final minute of the third quarter.
Heading to the fourth, the Falcons clung to the slightest of leads, leading just 4-3. Needing some insurance, the Falcons turned to semifinal hero Carrey, who the Falcons have relied upon to jump-start the attack with some instant offense from the right side when the offense has gone stagnant at times this season. But Saturday just wasn’t Carrey’s day, as he finished 0-9 shooting including multiple shots that missed the cage in the fourth.
With three minutes to go Owen Clark (’19) drew an ejection on Sonora’s best player, his second on the game. Carrey’s shot, however, was blocked by Sonora’s strong keeper and the Falcons missed a golden opportunity. As the clock continued to tick down under three minutes, each Sonora possession became more crucial, and each time the Falcons were able to prevent a game typing goal. With just 30 seconds to go in this game and with everything on the line, Sonora took possession and called timeout to try and draw up a play that would produce a game tying goal with the Falcons leading 4-3. The Wildcats began the possession by swinging the ball around the perimeter and driving to create confusion in the Falcon defense. With nine seconds go, the ball was swung to the left side of the pool and the Wildcat attacker fired a shot that tipped off of goalie Versperien’s hands and into the net, tying the game at 4-4. The Falcons failed to get off a shot in the final seconds and the game headed to overtime, which consists of two three minute periods. In the final seconds of the regulation, Sonora’s best player was called for his third ejection and was rolled (ejected for the rest of the game). This was a huge break for the Falcons that gave them a little momentum, especially after ceding that disheartening game tying goal.
Early in the first overtime period, Sonora drew a five meter penalty shot, giving them an immaculate opportunity to take the lead in overtime. Goalie Luc Versperien came through in the clutch for the Falcons, redeeming himself after allowing the game tying goal by blocking the five meter shot and keeping the game gridlocked at four. The offenses struggled for the rest of the first half of overtime and the game continued to be locked at four as the second half of overtime began. After a scoreless first minute, Carrey created a 3 on 2 counter attack chance after laziness by a Wildcat defender. Carrey drew a defender to him and found the open man, Nick Piper, who caught the pass and fired a shot that rippled the back of the net as elation ensued on the Falcon bench and in the stands. Piper’s clutch goal put the Falcons ahead 5-4, but he was not done. After two huge defensive stops by the Falcon defense, Piper scooped up a missed shot and scored, giving the Falcons a commanding 6-4 lead with 90 seconds to play. The Falcons stopped the Wildcats on their last three possessions with defense that blanketed Sonora’s best weapons and it was all over.
After one of the most exhilarating water polo games in CB history, the Falcons became D-III section champions, defeating Sonora for the second straight year by a score of 6-4. The Section championship is the first for CB this school year after the seven banners last year. In his three years on the job, Head Coach Scott McCollum has led a Falcon water polo program that previously had never played for a section title to two section championships. Unlike last year’s title, which signaled the end of the season, the Falcons will play on this season. The Falcons are the eighth seed in the CIF Division II Northern California regional championships, which will begin Tuesday with the Falcons taking on the top seed St Francis of Mountain View. We will see how far the Falcons can take this magical season, but no matter what happens beyond this point, the main goal of the season has been accomplished with another blue banner waiting to be hung on the wall of the Ron Limeberger ’53 Gymnasium for the second straight year.