TIGERS WIN IN WA­TER POLO SEMI­FI­NALS

No. 2 Tigers knock off Del Oro in D-II semi­fi­nal vic­tory

Lodi News-Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Mike Bush NEWS-SENTINEL SPORTS WRITER

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.

NEWS-SENTINEL PHOTOS BY BEA AHBECK

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.

BEA AHBECK/NEWS-SENTINEL

Tokay's Nicole Itur­raran gets ready to shoot as Del Oro's Mikayla Man­ley de­fends at Tokay High on Wed­nes­day.

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