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GIRLS WATER POLO: Ripon overcomes ejections to reach first Section final
Bulletin sports fall 2021
Ripon girls water polo players begin to celebrate behind head coach Erik Zador at the end of their 9-4 win over Christian Brothers in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IIII semifinals Tuesday at Johansen High of Modesto. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin

MODESTO — Down two key players to exclusion fouls, Ripon’s girls water polo team found a way to ward off Christian Brothers Tuesday at Johansen High and clinch a spot to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III Final.

Goalie Delaney Brubaker thwarted three penalty throws for the second-seeded Indians, and twin sister Kennedy came up big during a pivotal third quarter as they rolled to a 9-4 victory.

Ripon (18-6) will meet No. 1 Dixon (20-5) in its first-ever title-round appearance Saturday morning starting at 10 at Roseville Aquatic Center. The Rams defeated Del Campo 10-4 in the other semifinal.

“I’m extremely proud, especially after we were in the position we got in,” Ripon coach Erik Zador said. “In the past, we had a reputation of falling apart and getting overwhelmed and nervous and we’d kind of collapse. This is the first time where they stepped up, kept their heads up on their shoulders and kept playing for each other. That’s what made a world of difference.”

Hailey Knief scored the Indians’ first two goals of the game to help them build a 4-2 lead, but she was ejected in the second period. Mia Sickler-Lopez, who had an early goal and two assists, was sent off in the third.

Kennedy Brubaker picked up the slack, accounting for all three goals netted in the third quarter as Ripon stretched its 5-3 halftime lead to 8-3. Fellow senior Taylor Blair added two goals, and Samantha Scheid’s tally put it out of reach with 54.82 seconds remaining.

“I knew that two of our best players couldn’t play anymore, so I just had to step up and play my hardest,” Brubaker said. “We’ve worked so hard this whole season, and it’s awesome that it’s paying off.”

Meanwhile, her sister had a gem of effort on the other end of the pool. Delaney amassed 18 saves, and the game fittingly ended with her deflecting a desperation outside shot from Christian Brothers goalie Logan Tiska.

Her biggest moments were on the penalty shots, the first of which helped turn the game in Ripon’s favor early on. Christian Brothers (16-10) trailed 2-1 with about 3 minutes left in the first quarter when Brubaker denied Brooke Brandenburger’s 5-meter attempt. Ripon’s goalie quickly gathered the loose ball and dished it to Blair, who then buried a goal from long range.

Brubaker later had penalty stops in the third and fourth quarters. She also found her sister with a pass after a save, setting Kennedy up for a goal in transition.

“I just try to calm down, read where they’re going to shoot and that’s how I ended up blocking them,” Delaney Brubaker said of her penalty saves. “I read their hand placement and was just trying to being there. It was so exciting to block those. It’s a confidence boost, and I’m so happy with how I performed.”

Zador was pleased with the defensive effort as a whole.

“One of the main things we’ve been working on all year is not giving up that inside position and just playing good, strong defense,” Zador said. “We have a go-to plan and it works well for us, and we adjusted really well especially after a couple of our players got ejected. The rest of the girls just stepped up tremendously.”