Sacrifices would have to be made if Santa Ynez was going win its first CIF-Southern Section girls water polo title.
Shannon Connolly and Annie Ackert, the top goal scorers for the Pirates, stepped up at the defensive end, and shut down Diamond Bar’s top two scorers in the second half, helping the Pirates win the Division 7 championship with a dramatic 8-6 decision in double overtime Saturday at the Woollett Aquatics Center in Anaheim.
Freshman Emily Cunningham broke a 6-6 tie with shot from the right wing with 2:34 left in the second overtime and Allison Alderete sealed the triumph off an assist from Teghan Miller with one second remaining.
The championship is the first in program history at Santa Ynez.
“So proud of all these girls for never giving up,” coach John Connolly said after taking the traditional post-game victory plunge into the pool. “They played their hearts out. They had to follow a changing game plan.”
The Pirates were burned for six first-half goals by the Diamond Bar duo of Ashley Yoo and Phoebe Tsui. They used their speed to get around defenders for high percentage shots.
“We knew they had two players who did all of their scoring,” coach Connolly said. “I put freshman Shannon Connolly on their best shooter (Yoo) and sophomore Annie Eckert on the second-best shooter. I told them before the game it would come with a cost and it eventually did. They would have to fall on the sword.”
Connolly would eventually sustain three ejections and foul out late in the fourth period, while Ackert played with two ejections. But their defensive work, and an adjustment paid dividends for the Pirates.
Yoo and Tsui didn’t score for the remainder of regulation play and in the overtimes.
“We switched to a modified zone at the half — something we almost never worked on, but it was the only way to stop the bleeding on the continuous ejections,” Connolly explained. “It worked for the last 2 1/2 quarters of regulation plus overtime. Diamond Bar never answered after that, never scored another goal.”
Tsui scored the last goal for the Brahmas, fighting off defenders and beating goalie Sydney Hill for a 6-3 lead with 2:57 left in the second quarter.
Santa Ynez got one back before the half on a beautifully placed a shot into the upper far corner by Shannon Connolly, the coach’s daughter. Layna King tallied two goals in the first half and Ackert had the other.
Miller made it 6-5 in the third period by stealing the ball, outswimming a Diamond Bar defender and beating goalie Hannah Murray. Miller had three steals in the game “and was relentless throughout the entire match,” said coach Connolly.
Santa Ynez goalie Olivia Sparkes stopped a Diamond Bar shot and Ackert scored from two meters to knot the score at 6-6 with 1:28 left in the third period.
“Goalie Olivia Sparkes did an amazing job controlling our D in the end,” coach Connolly said.
In the dramatic fourth period, the Pirates’ made some big defensive plays. Hill broke up a long pass to You, Miller picked off a pass in front of the goal and Connolly intercepted a long pass.
With 1:08 left, the Pirates earned ejection and got off a good shot. Murray made the save and then threw long to Yoo. Connolly made the sacrifice for her team and fouled Yoo.
The Brahmas failed to score and the game went into a three-minute overtime period.
With Sparkes in goal for the Pirates, Diamond Bar fired two shots off the crossbar. Ackert came up with a big defensive play, knocking the ball out of the hand of Tsui.
The score remained tied, sending the game into a second extra period.
Cunningham got the ball on the right wing and, while being tightly guard, managed to get off a hard shot. The ball went off the fingers of the goalie and into the net for a 7-6 Santa Ynez lead with 2:34 to play.
“At that point, we realized we were going to have to stall for the rest of the game,” coach Connolly said.
Diamond Bar pushed everyone into the attack and got a good look at a tying goal with 12 seconds left, but Monique Yim’s shot hit the cross bar.
Miller threw long to Alderette alone in front of their cage to seal the deal.
Alderette joined Connolly, Miller and Cunningham as freshman goal scorers for the Pirates. Sophomores Ackert and King each had two.