There couldn't have been much of a better start to the season for the Bret Harte High School water polo program. Both boys’ and girls’ squads picked up home victories over the Central Catholic Raiders Thursday afternoon in Angels Camp. The boys knocked off the Raiders 13-8, while the girls won in a more convincing 24-4 thrashing.
Heading into Thursday’s opening game, Bret Harte head coach Carissa Spathias wanted her young team to feel what it was like to finally play in a water polo contest. With her veteran starters blowing the game open early, Spathias was able to get all of her players adequate playing time, which should help her team down the road.
“The girls did really well,” Spathias said. “The girls were working really well with each other and that was nice to see with how many new players we have. The communication in the pool was good and they are working together and helping each other out. I was really happy with what they did for a first game.”
Although the Bullfrogs were able to put the ball into the back of the net 24 times, their shooting wasn’t extremely sharp in the opening few minutes. Bret Harte had a number of open looks at the goal, but the shots bounced off the goal and no points were awarded.
Yet, once Bret Harte senior Kinlye Apley scored the first goal with 3:44 to play in the first quarter, the Bullfrogs had no problem scoring for the rest of the afternoon. Apley scored Bret Harte’s first three goals, with the third coming with an assist from senior Rowan Perry. Junior Lucy Dodds was the first Bullfrog not named Apley to score, which gave Bret Harte a 4-0 lead with 2:23 to play in the first quarter.
With additional goals from Skylar Reeves, Madison Borbe and Perry, Bret Harte ended the first period up 7-1. The Bullfrogs scored five times in the second quarter, as Apley added three more goals and Perry and Dodds also scored once. At halftime, Bret Harte had a commanding 12-1 advantage.
Central Catholic had no answer in slowing down Apley, Dodds and Perry.
“It’s nice to know how they (Dodds and Perry) play, because I know their next move and I know where they are going to go, even before it happens,” Apley said about two of her returning teammates. “It’s good to have that connection and chemistry in the water.”
After scoring five times in the third quarter, Bret Harte led 17-4 heading into the final period. Bret Harte exploded for seven goals in the fourth, with Dodds scoring three times, Alyssa Powell scoring twice and Perry and Apley each scoring once. Apley finished with eight goals and five assists.
“Kinlye has a strong arm on the outside and she played a good game,” Spathias said. “She kept her position and was communicating with all the new girls and was helping them out.”
Perry finished the afternoon with six goals and three assists and Dodds added five goals and two assists. Even though the Bullfrogs got a big win to open the season, Apley doesn’t think the blowout will inflate her team’s ego.
“It’s more important to get experience and learn about our strengths and weaknesses, rather than to get on our high horse and expect that we are going to play an amazing game every single time,” Apley said. “With this win, yeah, it’s encouraging, but we also have to understand that there are more challenges coming our way.”
Unlike the girls’ game, there wasn’t a lot of scoring early in the boys’ contest. With 3:35 to play in the opening quarter, senior Dominic Santella gave the Bullfrogs their first point with a goal and an assist from senior Arman Abusaidi. Central Catholic slipped a shot past senior goalie Jaden Bitner and the first quarter ended in a 1-1 tie.
With three minutes to play in the first half, senior Jeffrey Morton gave the Bullfrogs the lead as his powerful shot skipped off the water and off the fingertips of the Central Catholic goalkeeper. Senior Samuel Airola got a pass from Abusaidi and blasted a shot for a goal, which gave the Bullfrogs a 3-1 lead. Santella scored back-to-back goals and the first half ended with Bret Harte leading 5-3. Bitner recorded seven saves in the first two quarters.
“Once the second quarter started, I think everyone started to feel a little bit more comfortable in the water,” Bitner said. “It was getting those initial nerves out.”
Bret Harte extended its lead to 6-3 with 5:59 to play in the third quarter, following a goal from Airola. But the lead didn’t last, as Central Catholic scored three unanswered goals and tied the game at 6-6 with 2:53 left in the third quarter.
“When goals get consistently scored on me, yeah, it’s a downer, but I don’t really worry about it too much,” Bitner said. “I know that my team has my back and won’t be mad at me. If I let a goal or two in, I just have to stop the next one.”
The third quarter came to an end with sophomore Noah Cardiel scoring as time expired, which gave the Bulldogs an 8-7 advantage heading into the fourth. Less than one minute into the final quarter, Airola scored to give Bret Harte a 9-7 lead and Bitner had a little more room for error while protecting his goal.
“I like to pretend that it’s still a tie game and it's the biggest game of the season,” Bitner said about playing with the lead. “Knowing that I can let one in makes me a little lazier. If I can block as many as I can, I’d like to. Yes, it’s nice to know that if they do score on me, it’s not going to matter, but I try not to think about it, because that’ll just make me a lazy goalie.”
The fourth quarter belonged to the Bullfrogs as they outscored the Raiders 5-1, with Abusaidi scoring three of the goals. As time expired, not only did Bret Harte clinch its first win of the season, but Mike Kelly got his first victory as head coach.
“It’s a relief and vindication of our work ethic and my faith in these guys; not only the veteran seniors, but we have an enormously strong class of underclassmen who are stepping up and literally jumping into the deep end and taking care of us,” Kelly said. “I am elated, certainly with winning, but at the way we won. We won with good strategy, good offense, good defense and good substitution.”
Abusaidi finished with four goals and two assists; Santella scored three times and had one assist; Morton scored twice and had two assists; and Cardiel had three assists and one goal. Protecting Bret Harte’s goal was Bitner, who finished with 15 saves.
“He fought a heroic battle,” Kelly said of Bitner’s performance. “He’s a field commander out there. He takes his responsibilities very seriously. He’s a supreme athlete and a phenomenal goalkeeper. I am proud of his ability as a goalie and his leadership.”
Bret Harte will have to wait to play again until Sept. 26, when El Dorado makes its way to Angels Camp. Mother Lode League league play opens on Oct.1 at home against Calaveras.