The Rio Mesa High boys’ water polo team was in danger of falling behind by five goals when junior goalie Kyle Walthall blocked a 5-meter attempt near the end of the first half.
But it proved to be just the spark Rio Mesa needed to stage a big rally and beat visiting Malibu 12-7 in a non-league game on Tuesday afternoon at Rio Mesa High.
“Once he blocked that, it was like, ‘All right, we are still in this,’ ” Rio Mesa coach Derrick Timmons said. “The momentum really shifted and we kind of rode that wave until the end. Sometimes it takes one or two guys on the team to do something spectacular to make everybody else believe.”
Lucas Villa scored five goals, including two on pretty backhands, as Rio Mesa (5-3) outscored Malibu 10-2 in the second half.
Malibu (3-2-2) got off to a quick start by scoring three goals on its first four shot attempts of the first quarter. The Sharks expanded their lead to 5-1 and appeared ready to bury Rio Mesa when Walthall noticed Malibu’s Erik Philbrick leaning and blocked his 5-meter attempt with one minute remaining in the half.
“Every save is a big save in a goalie situation. I have learned that through the couple of years I’ve played water polo,” said Walthall, who finished with 14 blocks. “Every block can be a momentum changer, which can lead to your team scoring more goals.”
Villa was the catalyst for Rio Mesa in the scoring department with a backhanded goal just before halftime to begin the rally.
The Spartans drew within one goal late in the third quarter on a wild sequence in which Rio Mesa stole the ball only to have Malibu steal it right back only to have Rio Mesa steal it right back again.
It eventually culminated with Brendan Kirk skipping a shot into the goal just as the quarter ended.
Rio Mesa finally took its first lead on back-to-back goals by Doug Doria and Joe Yamamoto at the outset of the fourth quarter and never looked back.
Cameron Custance capped Rio Mesa’s blitzkrieg with two of his three goals in the waning minutes.
“It was really a solid team effort and I felt like we never let down,” Timmons said. “Even early on our offense was working, but the shots just didn’t go in. They went over the cage or to the right or right to the goalie.”
Ryan Brown led Malibu in scoring with three goals, while Dan Satorius had 12 blocks in goal.
“I think we made some critical mental mistakes, where we made two or three turnovers and they were able to capitalize on those turnovers,” Malibu coach Mike Mulligan said. “If we didn’t make those mistakes and scored we could have been up 6-1 or 7-2, and it wouldn’t have allowed them to get back in the game.”
Rio Mesa’s reward for rallying for the victory is a “preseason hell week” practice that begins at 6 a.m. this morning.
“We still need that humility and we need to know that the only way we are going to win this year is if we do our best in practice,” Timmons said. “I feel like we have some halfway believers on our team who don’t take practice as seriously as they should. We are trying to change that.”