Poloists salvage spirited split

"It's practically a new team, with a new coach - and now fans and members of the Bainbridge High School boys' water polo club are having to get used to a new middle-of-the-pack position.After a loss to Mercer Island Tuesday and a win against Wilson Thursday, both in their home pool, Team Ray has plowed into the second half of their season with a 6-7 mark.The mark may be mediocre. The team, however, is anything but.We've just got to focus and utilize what we've got, said senior Adam Gunn, who registered 14 saves and a game-closing pool-length goal in Bainbridge's 15-10 victory over Wilson. We've got the ability. We've just got to keep our minds in it.An effective reminder of that last came against Mercer Island, a perennial water polo powerhouse with a history of high-intensity showdowns against Team Ray in seasons past.Against Bainbridge, which lost more than 10 seniors from last season's fourth-place squad and has struggled this season to find a new niche under first-year head coach Jeff Clark, the Islanders cast a long shadow over their less-tested counterparts.The Islanders seized a 4-0 lead that held until midway through the second period, when senior Andrew Sperling rocketed in an angling shot to bring Bainbridge back into the contest. A Jeff Christensen score in the third period made it 5-2 Islanders, but the visiting squad slowly bent back Bainbridge's defense with superior speed and set-offense passing.After seven unanswered Mercer Island goals, Bainbridge got its finally tally on a brutal backhand drive from sophomore Nate Rooks.We didn't get blown out as bad as I thought we would, to be honest, Clark said. But that what I like about our guys - one of the things I've tried to instill in them is to keep fighting to the end and never give up. And that's what they did.It showed two nights later, as Team Ray reverted to the feisty form that took its members to an 18-7 romp over Lakes the Friday before - this time, against Wilson.Wilson, which beat another team by two that Bainbridge had lost to by just one point earlier in the season, seemed an even match for Bainbridge.It didn't play that way, however.Team Ray broke open a 2-2 tie with six straight goals into the second period, and seemed on its way to a lopsided laugher of a win by halftime with a 12-3 lead.It was the second half that showed Bainbridge's true mettle, however. Where the boys in blue had beaten Wilson's defense consistently with a churning counter-attack of constant motion early, Wilson used the same tactic to bombard Gunn with a seemingly relentless barrage of short-range shots in the third and fourth periods.For every goal Wilson squeezed, Gunn made a brilliant save. And with Sperling and Erik Steineker stripping away the ball to create counter-attack turnovers on other possessions, Bainbridge managed to turn back the opponent down the stretch after the lead narrowed to 13-9 midway through the final period.We've been a second-half team all season, Clark observed after the game. Tonight, I told them, 'Let's jump out in front.' I wanted to get on them quick so (Wilson) wouldn't have a chance to jump back in.In doing so, Bainbridge showed a full array of developing offensive weapons. Rooks and Steinecker scored four goals apiece, while Christensen added three, Sperling chipped in two and Nathan Walker - along with Gunn - supplied a single score.Sperling and Steinecker also accounted for seven steals.Team Ray hopes to sustain the momentum from such well-played games as it heads into a home collision next Tuesday with Newport - a state favorite alongside Mercer Island.They blew us out real bad, Clark said of an 17-4 loss to Newport on Sept. 10. But I think we were a little bit intimidated then. Now, we know what we're up against. We're going to start to create more things for ourselves on offense - create some confusion and get some goals.The junior varsity squad, coached by Mead Trick, has seen its fortune mirror that of its varsity counterparts of late. The team was stuck for a 7-5 loss by Mercer's team - despite three goals from Jon Rochelle and one each from Brian Burns and Tristan Stringer.The team bounced back, however, with a 6-3 triumph over Wilson's JV. Alex Morris, Jake Christensen, Pete Wagner and Burns each scored goals. "

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