Bearcats go the distance against AG: Controversial call gives Eagles late win

PASO ROBLES — The Arroyo Grande women’s water polo team is really good. Death, taxes, and an AG girl’s water polo win are the only things we on the Central Coast have been able to count on for the past decade. They have won something ridiculous like 130 straight league games, but on Tuesday they were pushed to the very literal brink. Two referee stoppages totaling over 30 minutes in stoppage time, coaches arguing calls and, goals that were goals, that then weren’t, that then were goals again, made this a game for the books.

Head Coach Grant East coached one of his finest games from both a technical aspect and his ability to motivate his girls. The Lady Bearcats played fearlessly all afternoon and made a roaring comeback fueled by confidence late in the game that had the Eagles looking a lot more like David than the Goliath.

The first tactical move East made was placing one of his best scorers in the shallow end goal.

“That was a strategy for today,” East said after the game. “The hope was that the goalie would shift on our counter-attack, so we put the person with the best arm in the shallow cage to try and see if they would come out and fake the counter-attack and then shoot, but it didn't work in the second quarter so we just kept trusting our goalie to get back in there and she did phenomenally.”

The strategic move didn't produce any points, but it very well might have produced confidence. The move showed to the girls in the pool that Paso Robles wasn’t here to be another notch on the Eagles belt. The move showed everyone that the Bearcats were coming to win.

In the first half, Arroyo Grande’s advantages could be seen. AG had faster swimmers — it was obvious they played in a larger pool based solely on their spacing — and they converted twice with relative ease when they were a man up. However, Emily Christian’s two goals in the first half kept Paso in the game. At half, they only trailed 2-5.

“It was so amazing just making those goals,” Christian said. “Because I just came up to varsity this year and I’m a starter it's so amazing, I don't know. It was just such a good feeling, I really like it.”

After a scoreless third quarter from the Bearcats, the Eagles led 2-8 going into the final quarter and that is when everything changed.

“I told them we have nothing to lose in these games,” East said of his halftime pep talk.  “AG has won something like 130 league games straight so somebody has to be the first team to beat them.”

Suddenly, as if a magical hex had been lifted from the goal, the Bearcats started scoring at will. Aubrey Pasky picked up a pass from Tatiana Smeltzer and twirled clockwise for a beautiful backhand goal. A few moments later Christian added her third goal of the contest bringing the score to 4-8.

With 2:45 left in the game the first controversy struck. Captain Mackenzie Raymond drove down the left side of the pool and tossed a pass to Smeltzer who was sitting at the back post. Smeltzer knocked the goal in to cut the lead to only a two points, but Arroyo Grande coach Steven Allen objected to the call. The two officials gathered together for about six minutes before they decided the goal did in fact count.

Raymond added another goal off a ricochet with just 1:45 on the clock to bring the Bearcats within one point.

The game looked to be over after the Bearcats failed to score on their next possession and AG began passing the ball around the pool just running the clock out. However, there was a three-second difference between the game and shot clock when the buzzer sounded indicating the shot clock had expired, Smeltzer picked up the ball and fired it from the halfway point in the pool into the upper right-hand corner. Those gathered around the pool went nuts, it was so loud right after she scored that the crowd couldn't hear the referee’s whistle the entire time.

The game stopped for around 30 minutes while coaches and the referees tried to sort out the misunderstanding. The referee stated that when the shot clock expired the clock had stopped moving and that is why he blew the whistle (discounting the goal), not because he thought the game was over. Six seconds was put back on the clock, but the Bearcats could not score and the game ended 7-8.

“It feels great that we got there, but I’m pissed they took the goal back,” Pasky said after the game. “...We lost 5-8 to them last year and that was with most of our starters gone, so we knew that this year would be our best chance.”

Paso Robles is currently 11-6 on the season and 2-1 in league. The loss drops them behind Atascadero and AG in the standing because both are currently undefeated in league at 2-0, but those two teams will face off Jan. 30.

*Photos by Emmaline Voorheis


© 2019-Paso Robles Press

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