As the final seconds ticked down on a chilly evening on November 9, the Piedmont High School boys water polo team began exchanging hugs at the edge of the pool at Northgate High School. The Highlanders were about to lose a 14-7 match to the third-seeded Broncos in the second round of the North Coast Section Division 2 playoffs. Despite the disappointment in the tournament, the Piedmont players appreciated how successful the season had been.
Coming into the season, the Highlanders had lost a pair of Division I recruits and the question was whether Piedmont could continue its run of recent success.
“If they said 17-12 and we’d be in the second round of NCS with a good competitive game, I would have been a very happy guy,” Highlanders coach John Savage said. “We’re a very happy coaching staff right now and looking forward to putting in some work in the offseason.”
Holden Hinsch had four goals against Northgate (20-7), which advances to the semifinals on November 13 against No. 2 Terra Linda. Max Wagener had the other three goals for Piedmont. Dariush Kashani had eight saves before being replaced in the fourth quarter by Julian Scherman.
The Broncos were led by Reid Stein’s eight goals. Omar Shalabi added three goals for Northgate.
“That guy is a solid shooter,” Savage said of Stein. “We couldn’t knock him down so props to him.”
The teams played earlier this season with the Broncos winning, 6-1. This game was different, with a quicker pace and more offense. Northgate scored the first three goals of the match and never trailed, but the Highlanders stayed in the match, trailing 5-2 after the first quarter.
The Broncos opened it up in the second quarter. Kashani had five saves in the period, but Northgate also put four goals in the net. Mark Hirsch fed Shalabi for a goal 11 seconds into the quarter, making it 6-2. Stein converted a penalty shot with five minutes, 33 seconds to go in the half, and it was 7-2. Ethan Rosenstein set up Stein with a cross-pool pass at 2:04 to make the score 8-2.
Wagener scored on a penalty shot for Piedmont, but Cole Sanchez set up Shalabi with just 16 seconds to go for a backbreaker. The score was 9-3 at halftime.
Northgate clearly was the superior team, with more speed than the Highlanders. But Piedmont also hit a couple of posts in the first half, and a break or two could have changed the course of the match.
“Sometimes they hit the bar and go in, and sometimes they hit the bar and go out,” Savage said. “All of our boys played a hell of a game and I’m really proud of them.”
The Highlanders lose three seniors: Hinsch, Tag Walter, and Evan Eldridge.
“Evan Eldridge came into a role as the starting hole set when Spencer (Stein) broke his hand, and drew four ejections today,” Savage said. “Holden Hinsch was 4-for-5 shooting from the outside. We’ve been preaching for him to shoot and his shots went in. Tag was our energy guy. Every time he was in the water, you knew he was going to give 110 percent and do anything he can to help the team.”
Looking to the future, the rest of the roster is back and Stein is expected to return from his injury.
Photos by Nancy Brahm