After coming off a narrow 12-10 victory over Clovis West to win the Central Section water polo championship, the Buchanan Bears boys water polo team was riding high with momentum that it hoped would carry it on through the state playoffs.
And so far, so good for the Bears as they defeated the Bella Vista Broncos 18-8 in the first round of the CIF NorCal regionals on the strength of balanced scoring and suffocating defense.
The No.1-seed Bears jumped out to a very quick start against their opponents from Fair Oaks, registering six goals in the opening period, including three from junior attacker Tyler Mrkaich.
Mrkaich was overpowering against the Broncos defense all game long, scoring six goals in total from a multitude of angles and different shot types. Lobs, hard, long-ranging strikes, tap-ins; you name it, he was doing it.
Caleb Teroaka, the team captain and arguably most potent offensive threat, poured in three goals on his own, and between he and Mrkaich, the two provided all the offense that the Bears would need all by themselves.
But, Buchanan’s offense is so remarkably well-balanced that they got goals from six different players including Tyler Mansheim, Luke Erl, Colby Hatton and Aidan O’Meara.
At halftime, the Bears sat on a comfortable 11-5 lead, and the stifling defense shut down any attempts at a miraculous comeback.
The Bears defenders would not allow a smidgeon of room for entry passes into the middle of the pool, often resulting in the Broncos’ offensive players having to take long, contested shots that skipped over or around the goal and out of play.
Combined with five more goals in the third period, and the Bears showcased exactly why they went undefeated in TRAC play during the regular season and mostly cruised through the Central Section playoffs.
Bears head coach Dave Pickford said that he was happy with how his offense didn’t settle for the first shot they had and instead worked to find the best opportunity to score.
“We were finding our looks, being patient and working for each other pretty well,” Pickford said. “You find the open guy and work for the right shot.
The Bears now will host the No. 5-seed Garces Memorial Rams from Bakersfield on Thursday at 5 p.m.
With just two days in between matches, Pickford knows that his team will have to focus in to get ready to play the next opponent.
“Usually we have at least probably two days to prep for a team,” he said. “With just one day, a lot of it is just focusing inward and making sure we know what we’re doing and how to execute the things that we do in every game well and just make small adjustments to each team and personnel as we go.”