Tulare Western fall in Central Valley championship

Tulare Western’s Chi’el Sanchez shoots the ball against San Joaquin Memorial this past Saturday. In the Division III Central Section championship match, San Joaquin Memorial defeated Tulare Western, 17-13. (Kason Clark)

Tulare Western boys water polo suffers a 17-13 loss to San Joaquin Memorial in the Division III Central Section championship match; the Mustangs end their season with a record of 19-13

FRESNO – It had been a strong postseason for Tulare Western boys water polo. After defeating No. 1 seed El Diamante earlier in the week, the Mustangs advanced to the Division III Central Section championship match this past Saturday at the Fresno State Aquatics Center.

With the Central Valley title on the title, the Mustangs found themselves in a battle with San Joaquin Memorial on Nov. 11. After falling behind in the second half, the Mustangs went on a run to take a 13-12 lead. However, they could not hold onto the lead as the Panthers came back to win, 17-13.

The loss ended what had been a good run through the postseason. As the No. 4 seed, the Mustangs defeated Monache, Golden West and El Diamante to make it to the title match. While he wishes they could have finished the job, Tulare Western head coach David Hodge believes the run demonstrated how much the Mustangs grew through the course of the year.

“At the beginning of this year, I did not see us in this position,” Hodge said. “The kids have grown, they challenged each other, they played together, they played for the person next to them like a family and they just kept getting better and better.”

The Mustangs played well in their loss in the title game. At halftime the Mustangs had played the Panthers to a 5-5 tie. But coming out of the break, the Panthers scored three straight goals to take the lead. The Mustangs tried to answer, but the Panthers took a 12-7 lead into the fourth.

To start the final frame, the Mustangs stormed out the gates with six straight goals to take a 13-12 lead. Adrian Tristao and Chi’el Sanchez led the way with two goals each during this run. After losing control in the third, the Mustangs raised the intensity to start the fourth.

“We just had to have a mental switch,” Hodge said. “We got down on ourselves and we were snowballing but the guys reset, came out and played together.”

But in crunch time, the Panthers wrangled away momentum with five straight goals to end the match and secure the Central Valley championship. In the losing effort, Tristao led Tulare Western with five goals while Sanchez had three scores of his own.

With the loss, the Mustangs finished their season with an overall record of 19-13. Looking back on their season, Hodge liked the progress that he saw from his team as they improved and played their best water polo at the end of the season. 

“The growth was needed and the growth was challenged,” Hodge said. “They stood up to it every day and they worked hard, so it was impressive to see them put it back and bring it together for this run.”

Mustang girls finish second in Central Section playoffs

Tulare Western girls water polo also found itself competing for a title this past Saturday, Nov. 11, at the Fresno State Aquatics Center. In the Division II Central Section championship match, the Mustangs competed in a hard-fought game against Garces Memorial. Despite their best efforts, the Mustangs lost, 11-8, to end their season.

The loss ended a strong postseason run for the Mustangs. After opening the playoffs with wins over Hanford West and Bullard, the Mustangs went on the road and defeated No. 1 seed Morro Bay. While the run finally ended against Garces, Tulare Western Jenna McGuire believes her team should be happy with what they accomplished.

Tulare Western’s Lilian Babb passes the ball against Garces Memorial this past Saturday. The Mustangs’ season came to an end with an 11-8 loss to Garces Memorial in the Division II Central Section playoffs. (Kason Clark)

“I’m so proud of this team,” McGuire said. “We haven’t been here in a very long time and to watch these girls come out and give it their whole heart is just something special to watch.”

Even in the championship match, the Mustangs continued to play tough. Throughout most of the afternoon, the Mustangs kept it close as they only trailed, 8-6, heading to the fourth. The Mustangs then opened the fourth with a goal from Lilian Babb to cut the deficit to just one goal. But the Rams ended the game on a 3-1 run to secure the Central Valley championship and end the Mustangs’ season.

Makayla McGuire and Babb each finished with two goals for the Mustangs. With the loss, Tulare Western now finishes its season with an overall record of 27-8. While the year came to a disappointing end, Jenna is proud of her players for the season that they had.

“There’s no one else I’d rather be here with. Garces won it but I’d take my team any day,” Jenna said. “I’m proud of them. They have character, they have grit, they have heart and they worked so hard. I think that’s a huge testament to the season. I’d rather take second with them than anything else.”

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