Justin Tanzillo squeezed a ball between both hands, releasing the frustration that had mounted over the final two periods of Tuesday's 10-5 loss to Rio Americano.
The Buhach Colony girls water polo team had the top team in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II tournament on the ropes for one half, but couldn't close.
Rio Americano, a tradition-rich program with about as many section banners (10) as the Thunder have players (14), overcame a halftime deficit with an 8-1 spurt at Johansen's B. Brent Bohlender Aquatic Facility.
The end of the season came too soon for the Central California Conference co-champions.
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With tears in their eyes, the Thunder closed the book on the best season in program history. Buhach Colony finished 22-7 with a couple of take-home prizes: the program's first league title, and a top-four ranking in all of Division II.
Erin McBride scored three goals, Pamela Solano had one goal, three assists and four steals, and goalie Tarveen Takhar finished with 13 saves in the loss.
"I know the girls really wanted to win today," Tanzillo said. "They played really hard and they played really well, but I don't want this to take away from their season. We've completely 180'ed our program and it's because of these girls. These seniors, they started that.
"It was the first time we've won our league championship, and it was the first time our school has been to the semifinals. They've done a lot of great things. I know they don't see it right now. I know they're bummed because of what just happened, but they've done an awesome job this year."
It started so well for the Thunder, who surged to a 4-2 lead at the changeover.
McBride found the back of the net with 4:28 left in the first period to start the scoring. Solano nearly made it 2-0 moments later, but had a close-range shot stopped on the goal line.
Rio Americano answered quickly.
Rebekah Shapiro powered her shot through Takhar's block to make it 1-1.
Solano answered with a float shot in the final 30 seconds of the first period. She lofted a shot into the far corner, just over the goalie's reach to give Buhach Colony the lead.
McBride stretched the lead to 3-1, capitalizing on a Solano steal in the middle of the pool. Solano pushed the ball up the pool, but the fastbreak bogged down. She kicked a pass out to McBride, who fired her shot inside the far post.
"From the very first whistle of the first quarter, it was a battle," Solano said. "We put in so much work. We've played against some great teams to get here. They (Rio Americano) are a really good program. We had to crawl our way up to get to where we are as a team. "
McBride showcased her strength with her third and final goal late in the first half. With her back to the cage, McBride received a pass, spun around her defender and rifled a right-handed shot to the far post to make it 4-2.
Buhach Colony couldn't sustain that pace against a deeper, battle-hardened program.
Rio Americano opened the second half with five unanswered goals, ending a two-year finals drought. Rio Americano has won 10 section championships. Since the inception of the D-II tournament, Rio Americano has appeared in 13 of the 16 finals.
Tanzillo said Rio Americano's mystique separates it from most of the teams in Division II.
"They have a history of winning section championships. They had a like a 10-year run," he said. "We're missing the experience part. No doubt they work hard; we work hard and they don't give up until the end, but it was the experience thing that gave Rio the edge and let them pull away in the second half."
Gretchen Kerr, Elena Petrie, Hailey Phillips, Gianna Nocetti and Shapiro had two goals apiece for Rio Americano (15-11), which plays the winner of No. 2 Tokay-No. 6 Bella Vista on Saturday at American River College.
Ashland Alcorn had Buhach Colony's only goal in the second half.
"Every single person on our team has put in so much work to get to where we are," Solano said. "About two years ago, we were down at the bottom of the chain. This year, we pushed each other to get to where we are now. It's been such an amazing season. I'm so proud of my team."