TIGERS WIN IN WATER POLO SEMIFINALS
No. 2 Tigers knock off Del Oro in D-II semifinal victory
Sydney Stewart calmed down and remained confident.
Alanna Stoops was a force in the box.
On Wednesday, the two Tokay High girls water polo players and their teammates delivered the knockout punches against Del Oro.
In the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoff semifinal game at Tokay’s swimming pool, Tokay, the No. 2 seed, produced on both sides of the ball as Tokay beat No. 7 Del Oro 7-3 to advance to the section title game. This was the second consecutive year that Tokay beat Del Oro in the playoffs; the Tigers posted a 12-1 win over the Golden Eagles in the second round, also in D-II, last year.
Tokay (21-3), which won a share of the Tri-City Athletic League title with Lincoln, will play No. 1 seed and defending D-II champion Rio Americano for the section title. The game will be at Woodcreek High of Roseville on Saturday at 1 p.m. Rio Americano, out of Sacramento beat No. 4 Ponderosa in the other semifinal game 8-7. Rio Americano and Ponderosa played prior to the Del Oro-Tokay game.
This is the first time in Tokay’s history that a girls water polo squad will be playing for a section title, but it’s the second trip this decade for Tokay coach Courtney Porter; in 2015, he was the Lodi High boys coach who led the Flames to a win over Davis of Davis for the D-I blue banner.
Entering the third period, Tokay (21-3) led 5-1, and appeared to have put Del Oro (1812), out of Loomis in Placer County, out of the game. But the Golden Eagles flew back into the contest.
After taking — and missing — several shots on goal in the first half, Del Oro made two of six count in the third period to trim the Tigers’ lead to 5-3. On a penalty shot with 4:46 on the clock, Del Oro’s Mikayla Manley drove the ball into the back of the net to cut the score at 5-2. Three minutes later, after a missed Tokay shot on goal, Mary Lubiens lined up in the front of the box for another goal to make it 5-3.
“We are usually up by a lot in our games,” said Stewart of most of the Tigers’ regular season games. “I think we did good coming together the last quarter and making it happen.”
Those goals would be the finals ones of the season for the Golden Eagles entering the fourth period.
After both teams exchanged goals, one of which included a save by Stoops, the Tigers’ goalie who is a junior, Tokay found its offensive rhythm again. Stewart, who had two goals in the game, gave Tokay a 6-3 lead on a shot from the side of the pool.
“It’s really nerve-racking to see the open water because everybody is watching you,” Stewart said. “It’s taken me all season to build my confidence up, to actually throw the ball like that. It’s pretty much just you and listening to Courtney yell at you to shoot, and that’s what makes me shoot.”
Porter added, “Her play was huge. Those two goals she put in were (plus) for us. The girls were able to keep their composure during the third.”
Stoops had four saves, with two came in the opening period when the Golden Eagles’ defense forced the Tigers to make shots that were missed.
“Alanna had an outstanding game, like she has all year,” said Porter of Stoops. “We’ve relied a lot on her this year. When you’ve got a goalie like that, then the defense gets even better. She’s been the captain of our defense.”
Tokay had two more missed shots on goal later in the final period. But the final chance came at 1:09 left in the game when Lizzy Macfarlane, after battling two Del Oro players for the loose ball, patted the ball into back of the net from one meter to make it 7-3.
Del Oro missed its final shot on goal. Then Tokay center Nicole Iturraran passed the among teammates in Stewart, Katie McLain, Macfarlane and Hannah Ortiz, as the final 36 seconds ticked off and advanced the Tigers into the title game.
With 4:43 left in the second period and Tokay leading 3-0, Iturraran, who had five goals in the game, recorded her fourth goal on a breakaway from the Golden Eagles’ side of the pool. From the corner of the pool, nearly three and a half minutes later, Stewart put in her first one for a 5-1 score.
“We’ve been working on all year on making other people step up,” Porter said. “Have more confidence in their shooting. Sydney showed us what she can do.”
In between Iturraran and Stewart’s goals were a Golden Eagles’ goal at 2:54. That’s when Ashley Leaman eliminated the Tigers’ thoughts of a potential shutout, as she threw the ball from the corner coming off a pass from a teammate. That made the score 4-1.
Tokay took nine shots on goal in the first period. Iturraran had five attempts and Macfarlane responsible for three. Iturraran wasted no time in scoring her first goal, needing only 20 seconds to find the ball in her hands after Tokay grabbed the ball to start the game.
“We missed a ton of shots,” Porter said.
Iturraran scored her next two goals at the 1:05 and 1.5 second marks on the clock.
“After the first quarter, we came together and made it happen,” Stewart said.
Tokay will be playing for its first-ever section title in girls water polo.
“Makes me really happy that we’ve got them this far,” said Stewart, who has been attending Tokay since her sophomore year but came out for water polo as a junior. “Coming out and playing with Lizzy and Nicole, pulling us through makes me really happy that we got them this far. It was more nerveracking knowing that we would be the first girls water polo team to go the championship.”
Porter added, “It’s a whole new world for them. I think they are going to have a lot of fun with it. We’re really looking forward to it.”
This is the second consecutive year that Tokay reached the semifinals. Last year, also as the No. 2 seed in D-II, Tokay earned a first round bye and beat Del Oro.
Exactly one year to the date on Wednesday at Johansen High of Modesto, Bella Vista of Fair Oaks beat Tokay — ironically by the same score as Wednesday’s game — to face Rio Americano in the finals.
Above: Tokay goalkeeper Alanna Stoops defends during their Sac-Jouaquin Section Division II semifinal game against Del Oro at Tokay High on Wednesday. Below: Tokay's Hannah Ortiz looks to pass for an assist over Del Oro's Mikayla Manley.
Tokay's Nicole Iturraran gets ready to shoot as Del Oro's Mikayla Manley defends at Tokay High on Wednesday.