The plan for the Pitman High water polo team coming into Wednesday’s Sac-Joaquin Section playoff opener against seventh-seeded Lodi was simple: stop Victor Plunkett.
The plan worked — Plunkett was held to three goals as No. 10 Pitman pulled away for a 13-7 victory in the first round of the Division II playoffs at Tokay High’s pool.
“Offensively, it was nice we had people putting away goals, almost everyone was confident shooting, so that helped too,” Pitman coach Justin Jones said. “But yeah, it was controlling their threat players. That was our biggest thing was controlling their best players.”
Pitman pulled steadily ahead, and held a 7-3 advantage at halftime. That four-goal lead inched up to five by the end of the third quarter, and Lodi (17-11) was unable to close the gap.
“Yeah, we kind of shot ourselves in the foot with a lot of bad passes, and they had a really good goalie,” Lodi coach Dan Christy said, referring to Pitman’s senior goalkeeper Garrett Willson. “So what they were doing was, he’d have a blocked shot or we’d have a bad shot, he was really good when they counterattacked us. I don’t even think they scored once or twice out of their half-court, everything else was counterattacks and we shot ourselves in the foot not getting back to stop that.”
Pitman drew first blood with a Shea Martin goal about a minute and a half into the game. Lodi’s Braden Endter evened the score a minute and a half later, followed quickly by a score from Pitman’s Sean Benard. The teams traded goals in the final minute of the first quarter, with one from Lodi’s Plunkett and one by Pitman’s Ethan Marigia.
Pitman jumped out to a 5-2 lead by halfway through the second quarter, with goals from Peyton Selee and Benard before Plunkett answered for Lodi. Two more goals for Pitman (Joe Carlson and Benard) punctuated a physical, defensive game to close out the first half.
“We’ve got some young players that we’re trying to bring up, so I think some of it is inexperience that you’re seeing today,” Christy said. “And playing a team like Pitman, even though they were ranked lower than us, we knew they were a good team. I knew it was going to be nip and tuck. I thought it was going to be a closer game than that, whether it was us or them.”
The second half started with more of the same, with two quick Pitman goals. Lodi tried to respond, but a swarming Pitman defense in the middle forced the Flames into lower-percentage shots from the perimeter.
“The last couple of games we’ve had this season, our defensive communication has finally clicked,” Jones said. “That’s been a staple of something we’ve worked on all season, and it’s nice to see that here at the end for these seniors.”
Lodi got two penalty shots in a row in the third quarter — Plunkett was swamped in the middle and awarded a penalty shot, which was blocked by Willson. Plunkett grabbed the rebound, but was immediately swamped again and awarded another penalty.
“Fine, I can do it again!” said Willson when Plunkett was awarded the second shot. But Plunkett fired it to the right side for his third goal of the day. After that, Lodi’s Jackson McDonald and Shane McKay scored goals to close the deficit to four goals at 10-6, but that was as close as the Flames got.
“Yeah, we’d love to try to go out with a win for our seniors, but we have a young team, so we’re looking forward to next year,” Christy said.
Pitman’s Martin scored to end the third quarter, and Rylan LeForti scored to start the fourth, and by then the game was a wrap, with one more score for each team — Seth Hillstrom for Lodi and Benard for Pitman.
Pitman advances to face No. 2 Rodriguez, which Jones said equals the farthest Pitman has advanced in the playoffs.