LEMOORE — Interminable, exhausting, spectacular, doozy; All appropriate words to describe Tuesday’s girls water polo match between Lemoore and Hanford.
In the third, sudden death period — fifth overtime period overall — Faith Quilty took a shot from the top and found the back of the net to put an end to the marathon match and give her team the 8-7 league victory.
“We had good strong passes and then just a quick shot was what set it off,” Quilty, a junior, said. “It feels pretty awesome. Just want to scream in amazement.”
Her game-winning goal came after Katie Womack — who was just called up from junior varsity on Tuesday — forced the exclusion on Lemoore goalkeeper Delilha VanHoek and earned the 6-on-5 advantage.
The reason for Womack’s appearance? Hanford has been decimated by injuries this year and was in trouble of almost not having enough players to field a team for the game.
“We’ve got three or four girls that are injured, one’s out for the entire season, the other one could potentially be out for the entire season so we’re struggling as it is,” Hanford coach Makala Davis said. “So to come out with a win and not have any subs, it feels amazing.”
It’s true: there were no substitutes for Hanford as Davis coached her team with empty chairs beside and behind her. But they had just enough players, and just enough to get the win.
Heading into overtime, both teams had a flurry of shots and timeouts in the final minute of regulation, but neither could get the game-winner. Tied at 5-5, it seemed as if the next goal could be the deciding one since the offense hadn’t picked up until the fourth quarter.
Lemoore and Hanford both came close in the first overtime period with shots just wide or over the net, but there were no goals exchanged.
Hanford’s Audrey Camara broke the tie with her second goal of the night in the second overtime period with a quick shot after a foul. The 6-5 lead with 2:49 remaining was Hanford’s first lead of the night.
“We just pushed through,” Quilty said. “Just fought with what we had. No subs, fought smart, played our game.”
It didn’t last long with Lemoore’s Maya Hubanks scoring just 21 seconds later. Quilty, who had a team-high four goals, scored less than a minute later to regain the lead. Hubanks came right back with another score of her own with 1:20 to go in overtime. Hubanks hadn’t score all night, but put in two when it counted the most.
The surge in offense stopped right at the end of the second overtime with both teams missing game-winning opportunities. At 7-all the teams would have to decide it in sudden death.
Hanford’s Ally Ryan had her shot go off the crossbar, Camara had her shot blocked, Hubanks just missed wide left, Lemoore’s Megan Van Allen hit the left post with seven seconds to go and the anticipation continued to grow.
After three minutes, it was still 7-7. Another three minutes and the score remained the same. With the crowd getting excited over any and every shot, it seemed as if the game would never end.
Make no mistake, the shots taken were great, but the defense was better. Neither team wanted to lose. It wasn’t until Womack found some open water and had a long pass land in front of her. VanHoek came out to challenge Womack, but was a bit aggressive leading to the exclusion. A couple passes followed before Quilty sent everyone home with her goal.
“I just told [my team] that I was really proud of them,” Lemoore coach Stephanie Bennett said. “They played with integrity and character. They never got dirty, they never got frustrated, they stuck to each other and I told them that’s what we need to take out of it.”
Both teams got off to a slow start with a scoreless first quarter. It wasn’t until Tiger Sam Costa scored with 6:33 in the second quarter to open up the scoring. Bulldog Shani Parreira tied it up three minutes later.
Lemoore’s Charlotte Aguilar scored her only two goals within 59 seconds of each other in the second quarter and gave the Tigers the 3-1 lead at halftime. Hanford would trail 4-2 entering the fourth, but thanks to the strong play of sophomore goalie Gwendolyn Gardner, the team stayed close.
“Having [the team’s] confidence in me really helps,” Gardner said about her big performance. “All of the girls want to win so they came to win.”
Gardner’s 15 saves kept the team in it long enough for them to finally find their rhythm in the fourth quarter when they scored three goals. Womack didn’t only make one of the final crucial plays in overtime, but found herself one-on-one with the goalie in the fourth quarter and scored the goal that tied the game and sent it into overtime.
Lemoore (6-13, 0-6 WYL) will face Hanford West (2-10, 1-4 WYL) at home on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Hanford (5-8, 1-4 WYL) goes on the road to take on first-place Redwood (20-2, 5-0) on Thursday at 6:30 p.m.