By GERARDO RECINOS
Two teams put together a defensive masterclass on Wednesday evening as the Lady Bulldogs water polo team dueled Encinal in a North Coast Section playoff loss.
The result was up for grabs until the final buzzer in the 4-3 loss on Nov. 2 by the Bulldogs. For a second it even looked as if Alhambra may have forced overtime.
But as it would be for the duration of the match, it didn’t fall the Bulldogs’ way.
Encinal came out with one of the more physical pressing defenses the Bulldogs have seen all season. The Jets hardly allowed a sniff on goal, they got behind the ball and played to the scouting report. The last time the two teams played the Jets won 12-4.
First quarter goals from Encinal put the Bulldogs behind before the end of the quarter.
Captain Mary Malkic scored the opener after Encinal drew a kick out of Bella Hurst.
Two goals from Madeline Nelson made it 3-0 in favor of Encinal, with the Jets coming close to making it more if it wasn’t for Alhambra keeper Anna Bernard.
Bernard had nine saves in the first half, including a double save from point-blank range with only 12 seconds on the clock in the quarter.
It wasn’t until their first possession of the second quarter that Alhambra even got off a shot on goal. Thankful they were clinical with the chance they got.
Kaylee Pond didn’t give up on the play, and forced Encinal into making a bad turnover in their final defensive third. Pond buried the shot with precision.
They wouldn’t be as precise the rest of the match.
The junior Malkic scored on a long-range effort to cancel out Pond’s second quarter effort. The goal was significant because Alhambra was unable to conjure any momentum despite drawing two kick outs.
In the second half the Bulldogs came out with more fire, but Encinal was stout in defense.
Madison Stribling connected with fellow senior Daria Dragicevic, with the captain making the most of her first good look on frame. Up to that point the Jets had made a point of beating up on the hole set, surrounding her any time she touched the ball.
Twice the Bulldogs hit the post, the most agonizing coming from a close-range shot from Hurst, who was surrounded when she released the ball.
She made up for it in the fourth quarter when she pounced on a rebounded shot from Dragicevic and pushed it across to the line to bring the Bulldog girls within a run. There was a shot for overtime.
But it never came for the Bulldogs.
Pond forced a turnover with five seconds on the clock as Encinal’s keeper looked to drain time off the clock and preserve the lead.
However because she was inside five meters, she would’ve needed to clear the shot to a teammate before being able to shoot.
And thus the season ended, and more importantly, coach Frank Reichert’s time at the helm of the Lady Bulldog water polo program along with it, 17 years after it started, he hung it up.