Johansen wins boys water polo thriller over Downey in Modesto Metro Conference showdown

jcortez@modbee.comOctober 17, 2013 

— Grant Plunkett wasn't quite ready to let go.

"No way," Plunkett said after Johansen High's 8-7 water polo victory over first-place Downey. "Second place ... We would not have been satisfied at all."

The Vikings' senior hole-set has won at least a share of the Modesto Metro Conference championship in his three previous varsity campaigns.

For a while Thursday, it appeared that streak might come to an end.

Holding a slim 6-5 lead going into the fourth quarter, Downey's Severin Elste scored his second goal of the match to make it 6-6.

The score remained tied until Plunkett scored with just over 90 seconds to play. Thirty seconds later, Downey's Sam Ciccarelli scored his third of the match to pull the Knights even again. Overtime loomed.

The stage was set for Plunkett.

"A lot of their gameplan is to drop, not only on me, but the set in general," said Plunkett. "I started kinda up top and we drove the drop across (the pool) and I went middle, so there wasn't a drop. I got the pass ... and that was do or die right there."

The Knights missed the potential game-tying shot and Johansen gained control with 26.8 seconds to play. All the Vikings had to do was hold the ball and they would wrap it up.

But as the Johansen bench was exhorting players to "get down" the pool, goalie Michael Slyusarchuk thought he was being told to "get it down" the pool. So he heaved a long pass that was intercepted by Ciccarelli.

"I thought it was going to happen," Ciccarelli said of a potential comeback. "We needed to finish that set. Unfortunately, our offense wasn't clicking the way it usually does."

Fortunately for Slyusarchuk, however, Downey misfired on its final attempt and the Vikes were able to run out the clock.

"They were yelling 'get down, get down,' so I threw it," said Slyusarchuk, who said he saw a teammate with a hand up and thought he was calling for the ball when he actually meant to hold it. "That's usually what that means."

Both teams are now 8-1 and tied atop the MMC standings with three games to play. Both have matches against winless Davis and Gregori (4-4); Johansen also plays 2-7 Beyer, while Downey still has to face 6-3 Enochs. In other words, neither team clinched a co-title Thursday but they're in solid position to do it.

"We're disappointed," said Knights goalie Michael Hicks. "We feel like we should've won, but when anyone loses they always feel like they could've done better."

In addition to Plunkett's five goals, Kyle Christiansen scored three. For Downey, Ciccarelli scored three, while Kyle Swisegood joined Elste with two goals.

"This was a complete team effort," said Plunkett. "This is what we practice so hard for. This was the game. There was no way I wasn't going to win a league title in my senior year."

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