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There was never a doubt that Wilson boys’ water polo would advance past Damien on Wednesday at the Belmont Outdoor Pool in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs. The Bruins scored on their first three possessions and never looked back in a 19-7 win.
“I was just trying to play my best while taking in the last experience playing here,” said Gray Carson, who scored a hat trick before the halfway mark of the first quarter. “It’s the last game at the Belmont so you could feel the energy and you just want to get out there and play.”
It will be the last home game for Wilson because they travel to Palos Verdes on Saturday for the quarterfinal, and then the semifinals and finals will be hosted at neutral sites.
“We haven’t been in CIF (playoffs) in two years because of COVID so it’s nice to go out to the BOP and show our fans a nice win,” said Wilson’s Sean Tunniclif. “There’s always pressure representing the history of Wilson but it’s good pressure to have, and it’s always nice to have the fan base behind you. We’ve got a good shot here and we just have to take it one game at a time.”
Carson scored a game-high five goals to lead the Wilson offense. Tunniclif led the defense with a handful of steals and two field blocks to go with four assists. Senior Carson Krueger chipped in a hat trick.
“Our seniors being together forever really helps us out,” Tunniclif said. “Our chemistry is unmatched and I think that can be the difference maker.”
Krueger and Carson scored the early goals to put Wilson up 5-0 while goalkeeper Brady Simon made a pair of early saves to set the tone. He finished with eight saves. He also had four assists on smart outlet passes.
“The guys took control of the game early,” Wilson coach Jeff Nesmith said. “(Damien) scored a couple goals but I felt like we had control and momentum throughout the game… In the first round you always have a little bit of jitters and nerves so you use this first game to shake that off and make sure you’re playing well.”
Wilson led 7-2 at the end of the first quarter, and Tunniclif made some big stops on defense in the second quarter to set up more Bruins goals. They led 10-5 at halftime.
“He’s been a defensive backbone,” Nesmith said of Tunniclif. “He’s a strong guy who doesn’t give up much and he helped out a lot.”
Nesmith obviously praised the play of Carson as well.
“Gray is going to find those opportunities and he’s got the green light to take those shots,” Nesmith said. “When he (scores early) he gets hot like that and that’s a Gray Carson thing for sure.”
Wilson extended its lead in the fourth quarter while all 18 players dressed out got in the game.
Now the Bruins turn their attention to Palos Verdes for the quarterfinal on Saturday. Wilson beat them 10-8 almost a month ago, and also took an early lead in that game.
“They’ve got a few guys you have to match up one on one against,” Nesmith said of Palos Verdes. “They’ve got some shooters and they’re well coached… We really just have to play our game though with counter attacks and good defense and two meter play.”
“CIF is a whole different thing and they can come out like a whole different team so we just have to be really careful,” Carson said. “If we come out weak, it’s going to be a game of catch up. If we come out strong, teams just go down.”
“In CIF every team gets better,” Tunniclif added. “We’re definitely not looking past them because we beat them already.”
Intern Wiley Haga Contributed To This Report