HANFORD —The dog fight between the Huskies and Bullpups came down to the last few minutes and when the waters calmed, Hanford West found themselves surrounded by cheers and applause.
Not only had the boys water polo team snapped its 10-match losing streak, but Hanford West (5-20, 1-9 WYL) earned its first West Yosemite League victory over Hanford, 17-14, on Tuesday in front of their home crowd.
“I’ve coached for almost 10 years and I have never seen a team show that much heart. I have never seen a team show that much grit,” Hanford West coach Kevin Jauregui said. “This is a game that’s incredible to be a part of so I’m honestly proud to be a part of this.”
Their first league victory was not an easy one by any stretch of an imagination. The two, Division 3 schools were evenly matched from the get-go and one could tell it would come down to a handful of plays.
Hanford West never trailed in the match and had a slim 12-11 lead entering the fourth quarter when things got really tight.
Huskies’ Simon Caldera scored to give his team a two-point advantage, but Hanford’s Clay Gillum came right back to score the next two and tie the match 13-13 with 4:38 to go in the fourth.
From there, Hanford West senior Dario Gonzalez realized somebody needed to step up for his team.
“It was that do-or-die situation,” Gonzalez said. “If I don’t score now or if no one scores, they have the momentum with them and we had to take the momentum away as fast as we could.”
Gonzalez went to work and scored two goals in 44 seconds to give his team the lead — and momentum — again. The senior finished the night tied with a game-high seven goals.
“I just told the guys, ‘Give it your all right now, this is one of the best teams that we’ll see in our division,’” Gonzalez said. “‘If you give me your all right now you’re going to get the response you want,’ and we ended up getting our response.”
Hanford’s Jon Avila responded with a goal of his own with 3:21 left in the match, but the Bullpups could not get any closer. Goals by Hanford West’s Matt Scheidt and J. Sam Helmuth iced the match.
All but one starter scored for the Huskies and Jauregui praised his boys after the match, plus had a little extra to say about Gonzalez.
“Dario is a rock. Dario has been there for us the entire time,” Jauregui said. “He’s the guy that is always hustling, he’s the guy that is always leading and not only that, but he’s got really great relationships with all the players.”
Gonzalez is the only player on the current Hanford West varsity squad who was a starter on last year’s varsity team. To say the Huskies are young and inexperienced is an understatement, but as first-year coach Jauregui said, “It shows that if you just keep going, good things happen.”
On beating their rivals for their first league win, Gonzalez was excited to say the least.
“It’s great, there’s nothing that can explain it,” Gonzalez said. “We obviously don’t want to lose anymore league games, but right now we’re focused on giving it our all and finally getting that league win is just going to really help us push and get us focused on playoffs.”
Hanford West has another home match against Mt. Whitney (9-15, 2-7 WYL) today at 5:30 p.m. Hanford (6-13, 1-9 WYL) will host Mt. Whitney next Tuesday at 5 p.m.
The Huskies opened the game with two, quick goals, but Hanford tied it up with 4:23 to go in the first quarter. Hanford tied the game three times on Tuesday, but could never get over the hump and move past Hanford West on the scoreboard. Huskies goalkeeper Kevon Calhoun was a big part of that with 17 huge saves on the night. Calhoun repeatedly saved point-blank shots and got some deflections which made all the difference.
Hanford West led 4-3 after the first quarter and 10-6 at halftime, also their biggest lead of the match.
Hanford’s Matt Ross and Gillum combined to score all five goals in the third quarter and kept the Bullpups close. Gillum had seven goals in the match and Ross finished with four.
“We never have gotten down this season,” Jauregui said. “This is what happens if you don’t give up.”