The Los Altos High boys water polo team overcame a 3-0 deficit to build a 6-5 lead by halftime and entered the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Central Coast Section Open Division quarterfinal game tied with St. Francis at 9.
That’s when the Lancers’ superior experience in close games paid off.
Fourth-seeded St. Francis held No. 5 Los Altos to a single goal in the final stanza and Terence O’Donnell’s long-range shot with just more than a minute left lifted the Lancers to an 11-10 victory.
“During our regular season, our lives were a little too easy and we didn’t have all these competitive one- and two-goal games like St. Francis gets in the (West Catholic Athletic League),” said coach Seth Tasman, whose Eagles beat every team in the SCVAL De Anza Division by at least five goals. “But for what it is, we fought ’til the end.”
St. Francis coach Terry O’Donnell, who praised Los Altos for its resilience, agreed that the WCAL prepared his team well for a tight game like this.
“We play a really, really tough schedule,” he said, “and these kids work so hard every day that I know whether they’re fatigued or not in the fourth quarter, they’re going to give it their all and they’re going to be able to execute.”
His son made the biggest goal of the game, played in front of a standing-room-only crowd at Los Altos. Freshman Terence O’Donnell drilled a skip shot from mid-pool to break a 10-all tie with 1:04 left.
“He makes a dad proud,” the coach said. “He’s been playing great all season. All the boys have been doing so well. They know what their role is on the team, they work their butts off and complement each other really well.”
O’Donnell, Ben Ramans and Berk Aksoy each finished with three goals to lead the Lancers; only Los Altos senior Kyle Johnson scored more (five).
O’Donnell’s power-play goal from in front of the net tied the game with 13 seconds remaining in the third quarter and St. Francis (18-10) never trailed again.
Ramans gave the Lancers the lead a minute into the fourth, securing a loose ball amid three Eagles and firing a close-range shot into the back of the net.
Kyle Bistrain evened the score at 10 with 2:32 remaining, lobbing a shot over 6-foot-4 St. Francis goalie Joe Gallagher.
The teams twice traded turnovers before O’Donnell made the game-winning goal.
The Eagles (24-3) got off just one more shot – a mid-pool try by Johnson that bounced off the crossbar with 45 seconds to play.
“We battled,” Tasman said, “but we had too many turnovers and forced entries – that really to me was the biggest difference.”
Los Altos’ best quarter was the second, in which it outscored St. Francis 4-1 to take a one-goal lead at intermission. Johnson scored three goals in the period.
“He stepped up big,” Tasman said of his left-handed attacker. “We run a lot of our offense through him, and he killed it – especially on the six-on-fives.”
Johnson is among 10 seniors who played their final game for a team that Tasman called the best he’s coached at the school.
“I think we proved to everyone that as a public school we can compete with these top private schools,” he said. “I think this was a big statement game for our program.”
St. Francis moves to the semifinals, set to play at No. 1 Sacred Heart Prep (21-6) 7 p.m. today.
“We will come out and play as hard as we can,” Coach O’Donnell said. “Hopefully if we execute and put the ball in the cage, we’ll give them a run for their money.”