RIPON — While 15 goals will win most water polo games, as it did Friday for second-seeded Ripon in a 15-1 trouncing of visiting No. 7 El Camino-Sacramento in opening-round action of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III boys water polo playoffs, a strong defense also helps.
The Indians’ stellar defensive effort was anchored by goalie Matt De La O with 18 saves.
“He probably played one of his better games this season,” Ripon coach Erik Zador said. “We started out a little bit rough because it has been a couple of weeks since we have had a game, and this first playoff game is always a little rough getting the cobwebs out.
“Once we got going and settled in we did OK.”
The one goal De La O gave up came with just seconds left in the first half when the Eagles’ Graham McColl snuck one by him.
“We came in knowing it was going to be a tough game,” De La O said. “And we played some great defense.”
The Indians marked time through the first half, leading 6-1 going into the third period when Ripon exploded for seven goals with Noah Esenwein (six goals, four steals, assist) getting three of them with an assist, including a solo buzzer-beater to end the period.
“Our coach stresses defense a lot,” Esenwein said. “We always press for the steal, press for the elbow, whatever we can do to get the ball for a counterattack to go for another goal.”
With De La O patrolling the net, Ty Wells was doing the same in the field with seven steals to go along with three goals and two assists.
“Defense is a big part of our game,” Wells said. “Our coach always tells us the score could be 99-99 and it will be defense that prevents that one goal that would win the game for the other team.
“It’s been a while since we had a game, so it took us a little while to get back into the swing of things.”
Lucas Esenwein chipped in three goals, two steals and an assist.
“Once we got rolling we kept going,” Lucas Esenwin said. “We started a little slow but once we picked it up that is all that really matters.”
Kaleb Hinrichsen added a goal for Ripon as did Maika West who also had an assist.
The Indians advance to the semifinals and will play either No. 3 Benicia or No. 6 Sonora on Wednesday morning at Tokay High in Lodi at 10:15.