The Santa Maria Saints got the fast start they wanted Wednesday afternoon in their boys water polo game against the St. Joseph Knights.

They also got off to a late start as the game was delayed 30 minutes because lightning had been seen in the area.

But the only lightning that struck came from the Saint offense as the team rode its fast start to a 14-9 Ocean League victory at the Karl Bell Aquatic Center on the SMHS campus.

“We started out quickly — that was the main thing,” said Santa Maria junior point man Drew Kringel. “We usually get off to a slow start and that’s what holds us back.”

“When you start slow, you play catch-up the whole game,” said Aidan Lange, a Santa Maria senior. “You get frustrated and tired. Today we were able to force St. Joseph to play catch-up.”

Kringel and Lange each scored six goals for the victorious Saints with Nathaniel Andrade tossing in the other two.

Justin Jones led St. Joseph with seven goals, with Ryan Galanski scoring the other two.

Saints starting goalkeeper Luis Guerrero was under pressure from a relentless Knights’ attack for the first three quarters. But he was up to the task, stopping 19 St. Joseph shots.

Matthew Clayton was in the net in the fourth quarter, blocking three more.

“We got off 36 shots today. We scored on nine, they blocked 22 and five more were either off the crossbar or the goal posts,” said St. Joseph assistant coach Caija McNeil, who was filling in for her sister Bianca, who had to miss the game to attend a meeting of Special Olympics officials in Santa Barbara. “So we had the shots. It just wasn’t quite our day.”

At the outset, both teams pressed the attack.

In the first minute, Kringel and St. Joseph’s Ezekiel Datuin each got off a shot from right in front of the goal. But the goalkeepers — St. Joseph’s Luc Licoscos and Santa Maria’s Guerrero — were up to the task.

The breakneck pace continued and, after a St. Joseph steal and subsequent turnover, Santa Maria coach Dylan Takanishi called a quick timeout to settle his players, barely a minute-and-a-half into the game.

That move worked.

Coming out of the time out, the Saints’ Brayan Nunez worked the ball around to Kringel who found an open Lange right in front of the goal. Lange lofted a floater over Licoscos’ hands for the game’s first score with 5:12 left in the first quarter.

One minute later, after Guerrero blocked a St. Joseph shot, he rifled a pass to Bryan Mantanez who quickly tossed to Kringel who lofted the ball over Licoscos for a 2-0 Santa Maria lead at the 4:12 mark.

After a Santa Maria turnover in front of their own goal, Jones grabbed the ball and fired a bullet into the lower left corner to cut the Saints’ lead to 2-1 with 3:34 left in the quarter.

The Saints stormed back, finding Lange open inches from the St. Joseph goal, and, 12 seconds after Jones scored, Lange answered to restore the two-goal lead.

With 32 seconds left in the 7-minute quarter, Kringel scored and, with one second left, Andrade finished off a breakaway with a bullet from the 5-meter mark to give Santa Maria a 5-1 lead.

Lange made it 6-1 early in the second quarter with an unassisted goal against St. Joseph’s John Tonascia, who took over goal keeping duties for the Knights in the second and fourth quarters.

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St. Joseph's Ryan Zimmerman looks to pass under pressure from Santa Maria's Drew Kringel during Wednesday's game at SMHS.

Jones scored his second goal, a floater over Guerrero’s fingertips, to make it 6-2 midway through the second.

With a man advantage, Kringel scored with 3:24 left in the half and then, at 2:57 scored on a breakaway to extend the Saints’ lead to 8-2.

After Guerrero blocked a Galanski shot, Jones grabbed the rebound and sent the ball into the net with 2:42 left in the half.

Lange returned the favor.

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St. Joseph's Ryan Galanski scores against Santa Maria during Wednesday's Ocean League game at Santa Maria High. Galanski scored two of St. Joseph's goals.

He grabbed the rebound out front after Tonascia blocked Kringel’s 2-meter shot and sent it right back in over Tonascia’s hands for a 9-3 lead.

With 45-seconds left in the half, Jones took a shot, Guerrero blocked it but Jones grabbed the rebound and scored to make it 9-4.

Santa Maria had one final shot in the first half but Tonascia made a difficult save, with the ball floating just in front of the goal mouth as the buzzer sounded.

Early in the third quarter, Andrade grabbed a rebound off a shot that hit the crossbar, and eased the ball over Licoscos for a 10-4 Santa Maria lead.

Jones then scored two St. Joseph goals to get the Knights within four, at 10-6, with one minute left in the third quarter.

The backbreaker came at the very end of the third when, with almost no time left on the clock, Lange pulled up in the middle of the pool and lofted a half-pool shot.

The sequence went like this — shot, buzzer, goal, and the Saints started to celebrate holding an 11-6 lead heading into the final seven minutes.

The Knights refused to quit.

Jones scored with 5:34 left in the game.

Kringel got that one back at the 3:53 mark and then added another at 3:16.

Jones tapped in a rebound at 2:15 to make it 13-8 but Kringel nailed one from the 5-meter mark at 1:20 to put the Saints up 14-8.

Jones scored again, off a Galanski pass, with 47 seconds left in the game but time quickly ran out on the Knights.

“The boys are motivated. They’re ready to get back in the pool. They know what they need to do to improve,” said McNeil. “We had our shot. The boys just need to keep working together, adjust their positioning and make those shots that we were missing today.”

“You have to give credit not just to our goalies but to our entire defense,” said Takanishi. “We knew who their shooters were. We forced them to take bad shots — shots that we could block.

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Santa Maria's Aidan Lange shoots and scores when his team held a man-up advantage during Wednesday's Ocean League boys water polo match against St. Joseph. Lange scored eight goals in the Saints' win.

“Lightning (in the area) held us back before the start of the game. That was the only thing stopping us today.”

St. Joseph (2-3 OL) has a week off before resuming Ocean League play next Wednesday at Pioneer Valley High School.

Santa Maria (2-4 OL) is hosting a tournament Friday and Saturday before returning to Ocean League action next Wednesday against Lompoc at the Lompoc Aquatic Center.

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Senior Sports Reporter

Elliott Stern has worked at Lee Central Coast Newspapers for the last 18 years after more than 30 years working in television and radio news and sports.