Buzzer beater sends Coyotes to title game
Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Madera’s Matthew Carrera rises up for a shot attempt during Wednesday’s semifinal victory over Pioneer Valley. He scored four goals to help lead the Coyotes to today’s championship match.
All Madera Coyotes boys water polo coach Ashlee Gibbs was looking for was a quality shot that could go it, but was also looking forward to overtime.
However, Damian Bispham had other ideas when he took a shot as the seconds ticked away during Wednesday’s Div. III Central Section semifinal playoff game against Pioneer Valley-Santa Maria at Madera South’s pool.
“The last eight seconds, I didn’t want them to have a chance to get the ball back,” Gibbs said. “I wanted our goalie to hold it, pass to Damian, draw a foul and take a free shot. He tried to draw the foul, but didn’t get it and still fired away. I wanted to fire that ball in the last seconds of the game.”
Bispham fired a shot from the middle of the pool. The ball was headed to the upper left corner. The Pioneer Valley goalie made a leap to get it. However, before he could have a chance, a Pioneer Valley defender tried to block the shot and inadvertently re-directed the ball past the goalie. The ball found the back of the net for the apparent game-winner.
One official ruled goal, while the other official waved it off. After discussion, the goal counted and the top-seeded Coyotes will host No. 3 seed Cabrillo on Saturday at 11 a.m. at McAlister Pool for the Div. III championship.
“I’m trying to score at the end,” Bispham said. “I was out of energy. My first initial thought was to power it through to a corner. Luckily, it bounced off a defender and it went it. I wasn’t sure it went in because I saw one official didn’t count the goal.”
The less-than-a second lead was Madera’s only lead of the evening. In fact, they trailed by two goals with two minutes left in the match. Three times, Madera came back from a two-goal deficit and twice Pioneer Valley scored a pair of goals to regain its lead, but the final time, the Panthers were out of time.
“It’s the first team since I was in middle school I’ve been in a championship match,” Bispham said. “This is huge. Our team has a chance of doing something this year.”
“It was 100 percent the most intense match I have been a part of,” Gibbs said. “Last year, we didn’t get out of the first round. This year, we’re going to the championships. When I was in high school, we never made it to the semifinals.”
Matthew Carrera and Bobby Criado led the Coyotes with four goals each. Eric McNeil added a goal to go with Bispham’s game winner.
The Coyotes also got a masterful job in goal from goalie Ben Prim.
“It’s Big Ben all the time,” Gibbs said. “Our defense works because we funnel the ball to him and he knocks it down most of the time.”
The Panthers scored the first goal of the game with a skip shot past Prim midway through the first period.
Madera came back 35 seconds later when Logan Carlson got the ball on the right and lobbed a ball to the middle. Criado jumped out of the pool and touched it past the Pioneer Valley goalie to tie the match at one heading into the second period.
Prim made three saves over the course of the first four minutes of the second period before Pioneer Valley got on the scoreboard midway through the second. The Panthers added a goal less than 30 seconds later for a 3-1 lead.
After a Prim block, Carrera got the ball and sent a skip shot inside the far post for a 3-2 Panthers’ lead. However, the Panthers scored on a lob pass, touch shot less than 30 seconds later for a 4-2 halftime lead.
With a man advantage to open the second half, Carrera shot on the right and it went through he goalie’s hands to cut the lead to one.
Carrera tied the score a minute later with a shot by a defender into the far corner.
The Panthers came back with a pair of goals 44 seconds apart to take a 6-4 lead.
However, McNeil set up Criado for a goal with a minute left in the third to cut the lead to one.
Madera tied the score at six a minute into the fourth period when McNeil got the ball off the rebound from a shot from Criado and found the far post from the right.
Pioneer Valley came back with a pair of goals over the next two minutes to take an 8-6 lead.
Carrera set up Criado again with a shot to the far post. The ball was short, but Criado was there to touch the ball into the cage to cut the lead to one.
However, Pioneer Valley got their two goal lead back with a skip shot past Prim 14 seconds later.
The Coyotes got back within a goal 18 seconds later. Michael Perez hit Carrera, who quickly sent a shot on goal and it went off the goalie’s hands for a 9-8 Pioneer Valley lead.
Prim recorded another save on the defensive end, but Criado’s shot went over the goal on the offensive end. Prim made another block with 53 seconds left to set up the game-tying goal.
The ball went around the pool and to the right for McNeil. He sent a lob pass to the middle that Criado touched into the open net to tie the match at nine with 25 seconds left.
“We wanted to get the ball to Matthew, first,” Gibbs said. “We didn’t panic and got the ball back inside and made the play.”
Pioneer Valley tried for the game-winner, but the Coyotes came up with the steal and Gibbs immediately called time out.
The ball went to Prim out of the time out and he sent a pass to Bispham, who waited for the clock to wind down. Then, Bispham’s shot on goal found the back of the net to send the Coyotes to the championship match.