Both of Lodi’s varsity water polo teams will play for a Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championship on Saturday.
The third-seeded Lodi boys squad punched its ticket with Wednesday’s 15-12 victory over No. 2 El Capitan at Tokay High’s pool, a day after the Lodi girls squad defeated Bella Vista 7-3 to advance.
“It’s awesome we’ve got our varsity girls in the championship game and our varsity boys in the championship game,” said Anthony Celli, who scored four goals in Wednesday’s victory. “It’s really cool, a lot of us haven’t been able to go that far — any of us I don’t think have gone this far in the playoffs.”
Nothing came easy for the Flames against El Capitan on Wednesday, with nearly every possession contested on both sides of the ball. El Capitan used that swarming defense to jump out to a 3-0 lead before Lodi bounced back to take a 9-6 halftime lead.
“A lot of it was just coming together as a team, figuring out what the refs were calling, what the other team was doing, where their weaknesses were,” Celli said. “We were able to come together, make some plays, and once you get that momentum going, it just keeps sparking from there up until the Flames catch fire.”
El Capitan led 3-0 before Braden Endter got Lodi on the board with a backhand shot off a Celli assist. From there, Lodi chipped away with second-quarter goals from Dane Cranford, Celli and Guy Hein to tie the game 4-4.
After some back and forth, Nathan Larson put the Flames up for good at 7-6 with 2:15 left in the first half. Larson added two more goals before halftime, one on a penalty shot.
“They just needed to settle down,” Lodi coach Dan Christy said about the early deficit. “They came out, jitters and everything, sometimes that happens and you come out too hyped. So I pulled em in and said hey, settle down.”
Lodi was able to get a few more open shots in the second half, with Celli scoring twice on counterattacks. El Capitan was able to trade goals, but couldn’t close the gap tighter than two goals.
“At the end there we were making some mistakes and bad passes, and that causes the counterattacks, which we really don’t want on their side,” Christy said. “But our side, we were doing the same thing. They were making some mistakes, and we were playing some good D and we were able to counterattack, that’s what kind of elevated us.”
Larson led the Flames with six goals, along with four from Celli, two each from Endter and Cranford, and one from Hein. Goalkeeper Evan Peterson racked up 16 saves.
Lodi (18-10) will face off against top-seeded Ponderosa (19-9) at Roseville Aquatic Center on Saturday. The boys will play at 2:30 p.m. The Lodi girls, seeded No. 1, will also play against Ponderosa, the No. 2 seed, at 1 p.m.