Strong finish for Knights: Hillsdale’s boys’ polo squad earn first Bay win

Strong finish for Knights: Hillsdale’s boys’ polo squad shuts out Mills in 4th to earn first Bay win

September 29, 2016, 05:00 AM By Nathan Mollat, Daily Journal

Despite meeting for the only time during league play Wednesday, the Hillsdale and Mills boys’ water polo teams were already well acquainted with each other.

The two had already faced off twice this season in tournament play, with Hillsdale beating Mills at the Sequoia tournament at the beginning of the season, and the Vikings returning the favor in the Serra tournament last weekend.

There were than just bragging rights on the line in Wednesday’s rubber match in Millbrae: the winner would have a leg up in staying in the Peninsula Athletic League’s Bay Division for next season. Both Hillsdale and Mills, along with Woodside, were still winless in Bay Division play. The last-place finisher in the Bay is usually relegated to the Ocean Division the following year.

There was even more riding on the match for the Knights. Having won the Ocean Division title last season and moving to the Bay for 2016, coach Renato Hodzic wants to show the rest of the league the Knights belonged. After a pair of blowout losses to start the PAL campaign against Menlo School and Menlo-Atherton, the Knights were getting antsy.

That nervousness turned into something a bit more as the Knights, after never trailing in the first two-plus quarters, suddenly found themselves down 8-7 going into the final period.

But a strong offensive output, coupled with a lockdown defense turned the tables for the Knights, who pulled out an 11-8 win for their first Bay Division victory of the season.

GRANT RONBERG

“We really buckled down defensively in the fourth. My hats off to my guys for their heart and their effort,” Hodzic said. “We had to play a much different style of defense than we normally do because they (the Vikings) have such good outside shooters.”

One of the best snipers in the Bay is Mills’ Zane Girouard and he almost singled-handedly kept the Vikings in the match. He scored a match-high six goals.

In the fourth period, however, he managed to get off only one shot attempt, due in large part to the defense of Hillsdale’s Brody Eveslage.

“We had Brody guarding him full pool,” Hodzic said, which in soccer terms would be to man-mark him the entire match.

Eveslage did not allow Girouard to get many looks in the flow of the game, as only one of his goals came in the run of the play. Four others came off restarts, in which he was fouled and the defender, by rule, has to back off him. That enabled Girouard to get clean looks at goal.

His other goal was a 5-meter penalty shot conversion.

“I don’t know if it’s normal (to man-mark all match long), but it’s what we had to do,” Hodzic said.

Hillsdale (1-2 PAL Bay) scored the first goal of the game just over two minutes into the first quarter and never trailed until a Girouard goal with 17 seconds left in the third period gave Mills (0-3) an 8-7 advantage.

Over the final seven minutes, Mills came unglued. The Vikings managed only two shots on the cage in the fourth, while Hillsdale came up with six steals.

That Hillsdale defense led to offense as the Knights uncorked six shot on frame — and scored four times.

The Knights did catch a break when the Mills goaltender, who otherwise had a tremendous game, allowed a pair of easy shots to slip through his grasp and into the back of the net.

“The team completely dropped it in the fourth quarter,” said Mills coach Daniel Chen. “They took it easy in the fourth. You can’t play just three quarters.”

Hillsdale, however, had difficulties getting into its offense in the fourth quarter and the Knights didn’t record the equalizer until there were under five minutes to play. But when Justin Palisoc skipped a shot into the net off an assist from Hao Peng, it opened the floodgates for the Knights.

Just over a minute later, Hillsdale took the lead for good. Ronberg took a pass from Palisoc in the hole set and quickly triggered a shot that gave the Knights a 9-8 lead. A pair of goals in the final minute — one from Eveslage off an assist from Ronberg, and a 5-meter penalty conversion by Noah Christner — rounded out the scoring.

Unlike Mills, which depended almost exclusively on Girouard for offense, Hillsdale’s offense was much more diverse. Five Knights scored at least two goals each, led by Ronberg’s three goals. Christner, Eveslage, Palisoc and Peng all scored twice.

“[This win] is big,” Hodzic said. “It shows we’re in the right division. It’s big for the program.”

 

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