A casual observer could have imagined the Rams were trailing, judging from the audible sighs coming from the crowd at Garces' swimming pool.
But the Rams have won two Central Section titles in the previous three years, meaning a tie score at halftime of a semifinals home match can feel that way for a team that's used to dominating opponents.
The top-seeded Rams scored half of their points in the third quarter, winning 12-8 over No. 4 Fresno-San Joaquin Memorial on Wednesday in the Central Section Division II boys water polo semifinals.
Garces (20-6) will play No. 2 Visalia-El Diamante in the D-II finals on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Fresno State.
“We knew it was only a matter of time that we were going to get back in the groove,” Garces freshman Rory Begin said. “Of course we did and we started having that intensity that we didn’t have the first two (quarters).”
Begin, the younger brother of former Garces standout Lee Begin, scored three of his team-high five goals in the third quarter.
“At the beginning of the year he wasn’t scoring a lot of goals and was finding his place on the team,” Garces coach Jason Gall said. “He starting to get confidence from his teammates that he can score. He’s been a great defender from day one. Offensively, we knew he had it in him. We have so much fire power on this team.”
Six different Rams scored, including two apiece by Josh Pavletich and Eric Klang.
But while the offense stalled a bit in the first half, the Panthers (21-10) kept pace. Memorial didn't trail the Rams until two minutes into the third quarter, once senior goalkeeper Ostin Woodfin began to keep the Panthers at bay.
“Defense leads to offense. He says he doesn’t have a role in the offense, but Ostin has a huge role in the offense,” Gall said. “The defensive saves he is getting is a huge part of our offense.”
Woodfin had 13 saves, including six in the fourth quarter as Garces led by as many as four in the final stanza.
“I really have faith in my teammates,” Woodfin said. “It wasn’t super fast in the beginning. But I know once we go for it, we are all in. There is pressure on me, but I have full faith to be their guiding hand.”
Garces was the No. 1 seed when the Rams won the D-III title in 2015, and again in D-II last season as the 1-seed.
While the section moved the finals to Fresno State this season, Gall said he's excited about going for another title in his second year as head coach at Garces.
“It’s a little more of a playoff atmosphere in a neutral site,” Gall said. “I am sure we will have a big home crowd driving up there on Saturday. This was our goal from the beginning. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. San Joaquin gave us everything they had. They played great. We just have experience.”