There will be no postseason for the Modesto Junior College men's water polo team.
Sierra's Clay Molina scored with seven seconds left to beat host Modesto 9-8 on Wednesday in a play-in game to decide who would earn the last spot in the Big 8 Conference Tournament.
"I wanted to go on," Modesto's Daniel Hunt said. "We all wanted to win. It was our game, our pool. We had every opportunity. We played well, but we could have played way better."
The teams played a scoreless first quarter. Hunt scored five goals for the Pirates (13-13, 2-5 Big 8), who led 5-2 after the second. Modesto coach Eric Fischer said it was hard to lose by one goal after taking an early lead.
"We lost our intensity in the second half," he said. "We forgot how to score, little things like that."
The Pirates got past Sierra goalkeeper Kevin Stoelting just three times in the final two quarters. The Wolverines stole the ball and scored on a breakaway, taking their first lead of the game, 7-6, with 3 minutes, 50 seconds remaining.
Hunt scored to tie the game 11 seconds later. Sierra's Mark Austerman lobbed the ball into the net for an 8-7 lead at the 1:42 mark. Modesto avoided falling behind by two goals when a Sierra penalty shot hit the crossbar.
It looked as though a goal by Eric Scudder with 36 seconds left to tie the game at 8-8 would force overtime. But Sierra's Molina got through for a point-blank shot, and the Pirates ran out of time.
Hunt said he was supposed to end up with the final shot on the last play Modesto was trying to run. But the ball wasn't passed down the right side of the pool and into the middle quickly enough.
Modesto had defeated Sierra twice this season. Wolverines coach Chris Breitbart said his team was formed late and has bonded as the season went on.
This is the first year Sierra has had men's water polo after a seven-year hiatus.
"This is the perfect time of year to be playing good team water polo," Breitbart said. "It's a huge win for us. Modesto is a great team, they beat us twice. Their guys played their hearts out."
Bee staff writer Kelly Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.