It took a while for the Liberty girls’ water polo team to heat up during the Bay Valley Athletic League Tournament title game against Heritage, but once the Lions took control, they couldn’t be stopped.
Claire Kane’s goal late in the third quarter broke a 7-7 tie and gave Liberty its first and only lead of the game en route to a 9-7 victory.
“What a roller coaster ride,” said Liberty head coach Jack Doria. “We have played behind before, but these girls have a never-say-die attitude, and they keep working, working and working.”
Liberty’s Olivia Doria notched five goals; Darynn Campanella added two; and Genevieve Almgren and Kane each added one, as the Lions (22-3, 5-0 in league play) bounced back from a 7-3 third-quarter deficit to stun Heritage (16-10, 4-1).
“It got frantic,” Olivia Doria said. “I got scared at times, but we just kept fighting and pushing through.”
Heritage’s Ella Simone put them ahead four goals with her score with 6:20 left in the third quarter, but from that point forward, it was all Liberty.
Four unanswered goals from Olivia Doria and one each from Almgren and Kane in the third and fourth quarters catapulted the Lions to victory.
“It was intense,” said Liberty’s Paige Henson, one of two team captains.
Liberty looked a bit shell-shocked in the first quarter, falling behind 3-0 on goals from Heritage’s Kayla and Elly Longoria and Simone, but Liberty’s first goal of the game for the Lions (by Doria) — at the 4:26 mark of the second quarter — awoke the sleeping Liberty offense. Campanella’s goal later in the quarter pulled Liberty within 3-2 late in the second, but the Patriots went on a 4-1 scoring tear to take it’s aforementioned four-goal lead with just over six minutes to go in the third quarter. That’s when Olivia Doria took control, scoring four of the game’s next six goals to sink Heritage.
The win is Liberty’s second over Heritage this season, the first coming in a 12-11 battle on Oct. 16.
The Lions trounced Freedom 22-3 in the opening round of the tournament, setting up a rematch with Heritage, which advanced to the title game after dispatching Deer Valley 23-6.
“Every time we match up with Heritage, they always push us to the limit,” Jack Doria said.
Simone led the Patriots with three goals in the loss. Caleigh Quist, Emma Lapum and the Longoria pair each scored once.
Liberty’s win secured the team the seventh seed in the North Coast Section open division playoffs and a date with second seed Miramonte at 5:15 p.m. on Nov. 7 at Miramonte High School.
Heritage, the seventh seed in the Division I bracket, opens play against 10th seed Napa at 8 p.m. on Nov. 7 at Northgate High School.
When Justin DiPietro’s father promised him $5 for every goal and assist he secured in Liberty’s league tournament championship game with Heritage, he let nothing stop him from cashing in. The junior notched a game-high six goals, one off his season best seven, to propel Liberty to a convincing 18-3 romp over Heritage.
“I had some extra motivation this game,” he said.
The Lions (22-4, 5-0 in league play) jumped out to a 5-1 first-quarter lead and never looked back.
DiPietro led the team with six goals, but Cade Venables, Kyle Young and Zach Perry each notched three apiece, and Hayden Dougherty, Patrick Olsen and Ryan Lichlyter added one each to seal the victory.
“Heritage is a formidable opponent,” said Liberty head coach Mike Cristol. “They have had a stranglehold on BVAL boys water polo for some time. We want to congratulate them. They have a strong program.”
The win was a bit of redemption for the Lions after dropping one of two games to Heritage last season, DiPietro said. The Lions sank Heritage 16-7 in the only other contest between the two programs this season.
“In past seasons, we have had some issues beating Heritage,” DiPietro said. “They are a tough team and usually dominate us. Last year, we were able to come out with a win in the first game against them, but ended up losing in the second game at their home pool. This season, we were a lot more confident.”
Cristol has shot new life into the Lions program since taking over in 2016. After going winless in 2015, the Lions won eight games in 2016, 12 in 2017, 20 in 2018 and 22 this season.
Liberty shared a regular season league title with Heritage last season and won it outright this year, before clinching the league tournament title.
Cristol said the team’s resurgence all comes down to conditioning and fundamentals, both of which were exhibited in the convincing win over Heritage.
“We came out with intensity,” he said. “We just wanted to play fundamentally correct water polo, and that is what our guys did.”
Liberty now turns its attention to the North Coast Section playoffs, where the team secured the second seed and a first-round bye. Heritage was awarded the 11th seed and will open up against sixth seed Foothill at 6:45 p.m. on Nov. 7 at Northgate High School.