WATER POLO PLAYOFFS: El Diamante girls pull out last-minute thriller over Dinuba

Miners score final two goals to post 13-12 win in Division III first round matchup, Reedley girls roll past Frontier in Division II opener

Dinuba High’s Arlene Rodriguez (11, left) prepares to release a shot on goal past El Diamante High defender Joanna Lee (11) during the Emperors’ 13-12 loss to the Miners in the first round of the Central Section Division III playoffs on Nov. 1. Rodriguez scored four goals for Dinuba while Lee collected three goals. (Jon Earnest)
Jon Earnest
Published November 2, 2023  • 
11:00 am

DINUBA – The Dinuba High and El Diamante High girls water polo teams couldn’t have put on a more evenly-matched battle in their Central Section Division III first round matchup at Dinuba High pool on Nov. 1.

In a contest that featured 10 ties and multiple lead changes, the No. 13 seed Miners (12-17) rallied from behind with two goals in the final minute to pull out a 13-12 victory over the fourth-seeded Emperors (18-9). El Diamante, which finished fifth in the East Yosemite League, advances to a quarterfinal matchup against No. 12 Stockdale, which upset No. 5 Santa Ynez by a 13-10 score on Oct. 31.

“We have a lot of senior leadership, and I think they realized that it was now or never,” Miners coach Kristen Ruby said of the team’s rally. “We played great defense at the end. Dinuba has some great shooters, I wasn’t expecting that, but we did what we needed to do to win. It was really stressful.”

Dinuba coach Harold Wood said a couple of mental lapses down the stretch proved costly for the young team.

“Next year, we’ll be better. That was (a fun game), we wanted to win,” he said. “But the girls played great. At the beginning (of the season), I thought there was no way we’d make the playoffs, maybe just a .500 record. And look what we did.”

What Dinuba did on this evening was hold a 12-11 lead with just a minute, 33 seconds to play after sophomore Kathryne Forbes scored her fourth goal of the night. A steal seconds later had the Emps in position to go up two goals.

But El Diamante responded in the clutch, getting the tying score on a feed from senior Lauren Pelayo (who made a steal the previous possession) to junior Joanna Lee with 55 seconds remaining. The Miners defense then forced another turnover, getting the decisive score when Elisa Garcia fed fellow senior Regan Cooper for Cooper’s fourth goal with just 20 seconds left on the clock.

There wasn’t enough time for Dinuba to manage a strong shot attempt, and El Diamante successfully ran out the clock. Cooper and Pelayo scored four goals each while Lee added three goals for the Miners. Junior Alyssa Navarro and senior Brianna Perry both added a goal, while senior goalie Laila Fernandez had an aggressive performance in the cage collecting some clutch saves and steals.

Sophomores Forbes and Arlene Rodriguez collected four goals apiece for the Emperors, senior Natalee Perez scored twice while sophomore Kylie Alvarado and junior Ava Arias also added goals. Junior goalie Jada Quintero collected a couple of stellar saves to keep her team in the lead, and just missed deflecting away Cooper’s final score.

Despite the playoff loss, it was a huge step forward for an Emperors program that finished 5-14 and in the basement of the WYL in 2022.

“The girls are disappointed, obviously, but they had a great year and they know it,” Wood said. “They worked hard and it paid off. We still have to get that winning attitude, knowing when we go in that we’ll win. We’ll be back next year.”

In other first round matches:

Reedley 19, Frontier 4 — At Reedley High, the Tri-County Conference champion Pirates (25-4) buried the No. 14 seed Titans (20-9) in a Division II first round matchup.

Third-seeded Reedley has another home game on Saturday, Nov. 4, at 11 a.m. against No. 6 seed San Luis Obispo in the D-II quarterfinals, The Tigers (14-14) edged No. 11 seed Porterville High by an 8-6 score on Nov. 1.

Sanger to host Reedley in D-II quarterfinal Thursday — For boys water polo, Sanger High will host regional rival Reedley High in a Division II playoff matchup today (Thursday, Nov. 2) at 6:30 p.m. at Sanger Aquatics Complex, after both teams cruised in opening round matchups on Oct 31.

The No. 4 seed Apaches (18-10) trounced No. 13 Cabrillo of Lompoc, 19-4, as Eliot Villanueva, Tyson Provost and Ryan Nasalroad all scored four goals while Jaxon Hoover added three goals, the No. 5 Pirates (26-4) posted a 12-6 victory over No. 12 Sierra. Today’s winner advances to the semifinals on Tuesday, Nov. 7, likely against top seed Clovis East (17-10).

Jon Earnest