The Clovis Cougars boys water polo team took a big bite out of the Bullard Knights Wednesday evening, and it was the offense, rather than the defense, that saw the team through to victory.
Clovis defeated the Knights 16-11 in the first round of the CIF Central Section Division I playoffs in perhaps the team’s most complete offensive game of the year.
“That’s one of the best offensive performances in a four-quarter game this season,” Cougars coach Steven Kaufman said. “Our offense has been a little hit-and-miss here and there. That’s probably the fifth of sixth time we have scored more than 10 goals this season.”
And the team’s two main offensive weapons once again were the catalyst to putting the ball in the net. Julian Rivera and Aaron Torosian combined for 13 goals, outscoring the Knights all their own.
At first it was Torosian that took the helm in the scoring department for the Cougars, scoring four goals in the first half, including one on a penalty shot, to help the team take a 9-4 lead at halftime.
Bullard got two goals from Austin Kern to lead the team in the half, but being down by five, he would need more help for the Knights to have any chance.
Kern did in fact get that help with goals from Dominic Guerra and Jack Fisher to go with another by himself in the third period, but still the Cougars lead 12-7 after three periods.
After the scoring barrage by Torosian, it was Rivera’s turn. Rivera went berserk in the fourth period, putting the ball in the net six times to put the game essentially out of reach, especially as the team’s defense continued to improve as the game wore on.
Clovis attacked the Knights offense when it was in its own half of the pool, something that Kaufman said is a big part of his coaching philosophy.
“The second the ball turns over, we’re in their face,” Kaufman said. “No easy passes, no matter what side of the pool you’re on; make them earn everything they get.”
The Cougars will need to bring that defensive intensity along with its suddenly thriving offense for the second round when they face the No. 3 seed Garces Memorial Rams, which ended its regular season on a five-game win streak.
Kaufman knows that his team has its work cut out for them.
“They’ve got a lot of really good athletes,” Kaufman said. “Their goalie is this big, strong kid. I think he is 6-6. We’ll have to work hard to get the ball past him and they have three really good shooters, one in the center and two on the outside.”
The Cougars and Rams will face off in Bakersfield on Saturday with the victors to play the winner of Clovis West versus Arroyo Grande.