MODESTO — Ripon’s boys water polo team came up short in its bid to repeat as Sac-Joaquin Section Division III champions, falling to Christian Brothers 10-7 in the semifinals Tuesday at Johansen High.
Coach Erik Zador said youth and inexperience were his team’s downfall, but all things considered he was elated the Indians (14-9) to get as far as they did. No. 2 Christian Brothers (17-10) takes on top-seeded Sonora (21-7) for the championship Saturday at Woodcreek High in Roseville.
“I’m happy with how the season went,” Zador said. “It went probably better than we thought.”
The first half of their semifinal also went better than expected, with the No. 3 Indians leading, 5-4. The Falcons of Sacramento took control in the third quarter, scoring three quick goals while shutting out Ripon. Nick Gagnon had two exclusion fouls to start the second half, and with only one substitute available for the Indians Christian Brothers capitalized.
“They tried to force him to get his third kick-out, which is what a team with experience would normally try to do,” Zador said. “He got put in a couple of bad positions at the 2-meter line and we couldn’t afford for him to over commit, so he just let the guy shoot. That really hurt us.”
Noah Esenwein scored two of his three goals in the fourth period, but it was too little, too late for the Indians. Ty Wells added two goals and three steals. Diego Moreno (five steals) and Gagnon, Ripon’s lone seniors, each added one goal. Lucas Esenwein contributed with five steals. Goalie Matthew De La O had three saves.
Ripon finished second in the Valley Oak League, ending a four-year reign. With most of his players returning, Zador expects his team to compete for more titles next year.
“I had three freshmen in the starting lineup today and they’ve never been in anything like that before,” Zador said. “Today I think the nerves really showed, but they’ve really come a long ways from the start of the season.
“I’m excited for the next year to have all these boys grow. This is the least experienced group I’ve ever had at Ripon.”