By Matthew Snyder
SANTA CLARA – The St. Ignatius girls water polo team came up just short against top-seeded Sacred Heart Prep of Atherton in a pulse-pounding 7-5 loss on Saturday in the Central Coast Section Division II championship game at the Santa Clara Swim Center.
The Gators (20-7) have now won six consecutive CCS titles (one against St. Ignatius in 2009), while the Wildcats (11-15) are still seeking the first section title in school history.
St. Ignatius’ two senior captains, UC Davis-bound center Carla Tocchini and goaltender Francesca Puccinelli, were excellent again against the Gators.
Tocchini scored three goals, including the Wildcats’ first two of the game, and Puccinelli added 11 saves, with several on quick-reflex stops.
“Today, Fran and Carla showed that they’re in that league of great competitive spirit, leading by example and playing big when the spotlight’s on them,” said St. Ignatius head coach Paul Felton.
Both Tocchini and Puccinelli played the entire game and were heavily involved in the climactic third quarter, when the Wildcats charged back from a 5-2 deficit with three goals in 2 minutes and 54 seconds of game time.
Tocchini’s goal was wedged between strikes from Caoimhe Slevin and Catherine Summa, and Puccinelli produced three stops to keep the momentum forcefully in St. Ignatius’ favor.
“We’ve never beaten [Sacred Heart] at the varsity level, ever, and just to have that momentum, that control of the game . . . I can’t even describe it to you in words,” Tocchini said.
Felton said that third quarter was “season-defining” for the Wildcats.
“I think that’s when they realized that we can play,” Felton said. “The goals that we gave up early were goals that we didn’t want to give up, but the one that let them go ahead [in the fourth quarter] – I was OK with that. Our defense adjusted well throughout the game and I feel like we put ourselves in a position to win, and that’s what it’s all about. That’s what our season was about and I’m OK with how it ended, because we left it all out there to try and win.”
Sacred Heart’s stalwart junior class provided most of the Gators’ scoring. Caitlin Stuewe (three goals) and Morgan McCracken (two goals) led the attack, while Kelly Moran added nine saves at goalkeeper.
But Sacred Heart head coach Jon Burke said his seniors deserved the most credit for closing out the victory. P.J. Bigley and Kate Bocci, both in their final years, scored the go-ahead goals in the fourth quarter.