FRESNO — It took two three-minute overtime periods, but the Bullpups hoisted the hardware as they took down the reigning CIF Central Section Division III champions Edison to claim the new title for themselves.
The two teams scored a combined 43 goals with 2-seed Hanford eking out a 22-21 victory behind senior Matthew Ross’ 13 goals and goalkeeper Ethan Moran’s 20 saves.
Ross’ 13 goals were not only a season-high, but a career-high on the biggest stage and at times he willed the Bullpups to victory fighting through double- and even triple-teams.
“I think it was mostly just adrenaline,” Ross said about his MVP-like performance. “It kept pumping and they kept feeding me the ball and it kept going in and I kept feeding off of that. It was amazing.”
Ross and Jon Avila scored back-to-back goals to start the fourth quarter and gave the Bullpups a 14-10 lead. It looked like they were going to pull away before the 1-seed Tigers — making their fourth consecutive appearance in the D-III title game — stormed back and outscored Hanford 6-2 over the final 5:28 to make it 16-16, including the game-tying goal with six seconds to go to force overtime.
“When they hit that goal in the end to tie it up they didn’t lose their composure,” Hanford coach Anthony Souza said. “It was a matter of who wanted it more and I asked the boys, ‘Who wants this more? We got two quarters and it’s time to prove that we need to be on top,’ and that’s what they did. They came out huge.”
It was tied 20-20 after the first overtime period before senior Alex Perez came up big with his only two goals of the match. He scored a man-up goal from the left wing and followed with an identical goal less than a minute later.
Sandwiched in between the two goals was a one-on-one save from Moran, which would have tied the match. His 20 saves on Saturday were the second-most in his career in a single game.
“That’s a big accomplishment for me,” Moran said. “I just tried as hard as I could. It’s an amazing feeling when you’re in the water and you just got to go hard.”
After Edison’s goal cut the lead to one, the Bullpups tossed the ball around the pool as the clock expired.
“I can’t say enough about our team,” Souza said. “We’ve really come through towards the end of the season started coming on strong and I knew we were starting to peak at the right time and today just proved it.”
Cam Hampshire scored four goals for the Bullpups and Clay Gillum netted two with four assists and two steals. In addition to his one goal, Avila also had three assists and three steals.
The match consisted of eight ties and eight lead changes and it appeared as if it was going to be a low-scoring affair when Hanford led 3-2 after the first quarter.
Edison took its first lead of the match on a 3-meter shot to make it 5-4 in the second quarter, but Ross’ back-to-back goals helped give the Bullpups an 8-6 lead at halftime.
To get to the title game, the Bullpups, who had a first-round bye, defeated 7-seed Sierra Pacific, a team they had lost to three times in the regular season, 21-15 in the quarterfinals and 6-seed Strathmore 22-16 in the semifinals.
The Division III championship is Hanford’s first since 2009 and one not many saw coming. Just last season the Bullpups won a total of six games and only one West Yosemite League game.
After Saturday’s victory they’ve accumulated a 17-13 overall record and went 6-4 in the WYL this season. Ross said the team knew they should’ve played much better last season, so they were on a mission in 2018.
“This year we came out and we said let’s go out there and prove that we’re a much better team than one win in league,” Ross said. “We won six league games then we came out here and we won Valley and it’s great.”
Hanford will take part in the CIF State playoffs, but the 2018 CIF NorCal boys water polo championship brackets are currently unavailable. A statement on the CIF State website said, “Due to the impact of the fires, brackets will be announced at a later date TBD, with contests beginning no later than Thursday, Nov. 15.”
The CIF State Office will be issuing a statement with more information today at noon.