Lady Bearcats narrowly defeated by AG

Early ejection hurts Paso Robles late

PASO ROBLES — The top high school girls water polo team on the Central Coast is and has been Arroyo Grande for the better part of a decade. When asked before the game what their consecutive league wins streak stands at their coach shrugged his shoulders, raised his eyebrows and claimed it was somewhere in the realm of 140, but didn’t really know.

The streak came its closest to falling last year when the Bearcats faced the Eagles at home and lost by a single goal. It was a crazy game that had everything, including Paso Robles scoring the game-tying goal with 2 seconds left before it was waived off due to a clock error.

Last season, the Lady Bearcats were considered young and perhaps a year away, but with a 7-0 start this year and coming off a tournament victory over the weekend in Tulare where they never trailed in any of their four games, this felt like the year and it might have been.

Paso Robles lost Tuesday’s game, Aug. 28, to the Eagles, 10-7, but fought to the end and had early foul trouble haunt them late. AG opened the game with two straight goals, taking the wind temporarily out of the sails of the fans in attendance until Halle Nash put one in the back of the cage on a nice six versus five advantage after an AG kickout.

Less than 2 minutes later, Nash bounced another shot off the top of the cage that ricocheted right in front of Tatiana Smeltzer who promptly scored to tie the game. With the time ticking down at the end of the first quarter, Aubrey Pasky scored her first goal giving the Bearcats the lead and ending the quarter on a 3-0 run.

The stands were in a frenzy, with all three of the Bearcats’ top scorers putting one in the back of the net in the first quarter it seemed that head coach Grant East had them firing on all cylinders. Hope began to fill the Paso Robles Municipal Pool faster than the smell of a tuna sandwich in a small breakroom.

After another beautiful Nash goal in the upper corner of the goal and some stellar saves by goalie Finley Burns, including a six-on-five possession where AG worked the ball to an open shooter directly in front of the cage, the Bearcats had the lead and had AG on the ropes.

Then with 2:27 left in the second quarter the whistle blew and the red flag from the scorers’ table went up and a silence fell over everyone in attendance. Smeltzer, the Bearcats’ leading scorer who earned first-team all league honors as a sophomore last year and earned tournament MVP over the weekend, had been kicked out after collecting her third major foul of the game and would not be able to return.

After some discussion between coach East and the officials, Smeltzer swam to the bench and Gabby Clayton entered the game. AG quickly knotted the game up but the Bearcats did not stop fighting. Nash scored again and Burns stopped a one-on-one to take Paso Robles into halftime with a one-goal advantage.

The Eagles scored the first three goals of the third quarter and never trailed again. The streak is still intact (technically it is over because this is the start of a new league but they still haven't lost a league game), but the Bearcats were not discouraged by their performance.

“It just shows where we really are at,” coach East said. “Going to the valley over the weekend, we had some great games and the girls were playing well but we don’t really know who they are so it really doesn't judge where we are at in the season. For where we are right now, only two weeks into school, we’re doing pretty well if that is the outcome of this game.”

Arroyo Grande is the measuring stick that teams in this area use to grade themselves and in back-to-back years the Bearcats have pushed them to the brink. With Smeltzer out of the game, Nash and Burns stepped up. Nash scored four goals, the only girl to score more than one and Burns added 13 big saves.

“She had her head screwed on and was killing it,” East said. “She has been working hard for four years and it was great to see her have a game like this when we needed and know that she can turn it on and have our backs when we need it.”

While fatigue didn’t seem to be an issue, Tuesday’s game was the Bearcats sixth in only five days after playing in Tulare over the weekend and defeating Nipomo 12-2 on Monday night. Paso will get at least one more shot at the Eagles this season when they travel to Arroyo Grande on Oct. 2.


© 2019-Paso Robles Press

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