For the first half, St. Thomas Aquinas faced a stiff test against Riviera Beach Suncoast in the boys’ water polo first round play-in game at Fort Lauderdale High School Aquatic Center on Tuesday.
Led by Bruce Espinoza’s five goals in the second half, the host Raiders defeated Suncoast 24-13. Espinoza finished with eight goals, and Eric Goldenberg added seven goals in the game for St. Thomas (21-1).
“Mentally, they were not ready,” St. Thomas coach Michael Goldenberg said. “That is not how we prepared them for this game.”
Suncoast (15-11) took advantage of the Raiders’ slow start as the Chargers jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first quarter. The Raiders rallied in the rest of the half as they took an 11-9 lead to halftime.
In the third quarter, the Raiders came out with improved pressure on the ball and forced the Chargers into turnovers.
“We never let them have one second of rest,” Espinoza said.
Espinoza scored three of the Raiders’ five goals in the quarter to extend the Raiders’ lead to 16-10.
St. Thomas outscored Suncoast 8-3 in the final quarter to seal the win.
The Raiders will face the winner of the Gulliver Prep vs. Mourning game in the state quarterfinals.
In the girls’ match, St. Thomas (10-11) had few answers to contain Suncoast’s Maria Marquez as Suncoast (16-9) defeated the Raiders 12-9. Marquez led the Chargers with six goals.
Trailing 5-4 in the third quarter, the Raiders lost senior captain Carolina Vargas after she fouled out.
From that point, the Chargers focused its defense on containing the Raiders’ Anna–Smith Johnson and forcing turnovers.
Without Vargas, the Raiders struggled to score in the fourth quarter.
“I’m proud of my girls,” said St. Thomas coach Gary Besbris. “They played as tough as they could.”
State play-in at Nova: Going into Tuesday night’s regional finals at Nova High School, Cooper City had a chance to send both their boys’ and girls’ squads into the state tournament. The end result was a mixed bag for the Cowboys.
The Westminster Academy girls’ cruised to a 27-5 win over Cooper City to advance, led by the duo of Koral LaStella and Caroline Israels.
LaStella led the offensive onslaught with seven goals with Israels right behind her, adding six goals in the Lions’ rout. The Lions took control early with five unanswered goals to open up the game and by halftime had a comfortable 13-point advantage.
On the boys’ side, Cooper City overcame a shaky start to advance to the state tournament, defeating Northeast 19-10.
A number of golden scoring chances failed to go the Cowboys’ way in the first quarter and the Hurricanes took a 2-1 lead into the second quarter.
But Brandon Bogumill exploded for five unanswered goals to jumpstart the Cooper City offense in the second quarter and give the Cowboys. Bogumill finished with a game-high nine goals.
The Hurricanes hung around thanks to the play of Taylor Stewart, who scored three of his six goals in the third quarter.