Righetti girls water polo coach Chris Yee’s defense had been good all season.

No, the Righetti coach said after the Warriors beat Morro Bay 10-4 to win the CIF Central Section Division 2 championship on an unseasonably hot Saturday afternoon at Pioneer Valley High School, the unit had never been that good.

“Yes,” in fact, “That was the best our defense has played all year,” Yee said after the Warriors earned the first girls water polo CIF sectional division title in school history.

Righetti finished 15-8. Morro Bay finished 22-11. The Pirates led 3-1 at the 2:58 mark of the first quarter. They did not score again until the 4:07 mark of the fourth. The Warriors had built a 9-3 lead by then.

The game was tied 3-3 after the first quarter. Righetti led 6-3 at halftime and 7-3 after the third.

Yee said his senior goalkeeper, Madi Cutliff, held true to form. “She’s been nails all year,” the Righetti coach said after Cutliff made 11 saves, stopped five shots on power plays and saved a five-meter penalty shot in the third quarter.

Cutliff said observation paid off. “I was watching where they were taking their shots during pre-game warmups, where they were taking (practice shots during the halftime break).”

Where the Pirates liked to uncork their shots was deep in the center of Righetti territory.

Morro Bay connected on its first three shots. Cutliff, Righetti deep defenders Jenna Salazar and Kayli Hernandez and the rest of the Righetti defense put the clamps on after that.

“They’re a real good team, and we knew we would have to make some big adjustments,” after the Pirates built their early lead, said Salazar.

“They didn’t work the sides much. They liked to go to the middle. Once we shut that down, we were able to go get the steals.”

Yee said, “Their center is really good, and we knew would have to double team her. Once we were able to adjust, we were able to get our hands on the ball before they could get it to her.”

Salazar scored three times, and Hernandez popped in two goals. Besides scoring twice, “Ella Green was such a big part of our offense, the way she was able to draw the defense to her and then pass off,” to open teammates, said Yee.

Bella Almaguer, Zoe McGehee and Faith Totorica all scored a goal for Righetti. Josephine Davis scored twice, and Ava Beckett scored once as Morro Bay built its early lead.

Tessa Standridge finally broke the Pirates drought with a fourth-quarter goal. Morro Bay goalie Kali Gammie made four saves.

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The momentum began to turn when Salazar scored on a power play to get Righetti even at 3 with 22.4 seconds left in the first quarter. Hernandez gave Righetti its first lead, at 4-3, when she unleashed a shot that went off Gammie’s hands and into the net at the five-minute mark of the second quarter.

The Warriors gradually pulled away as their defense either turned the Pirates over or Cutliff smacked away a shot, and Righetti’s ball movement, from the middle out to the sides, paid off with insurance goals.

Cutliff is part of a division championship team for the second time. “I was on the Righetti girls basketball team that won (a sectional championship) when I was a junior.”

With state winter sports teams finally able to play in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, coach Desiree Hitch guided Righetti to a division title last June.

“It felt weird, because some of our players were seniors and had already graduated,” just prior to the title game, said Cutliff. “I was playing with super seniors.”

Cutliff said, “It hasn’t sunk in yet,” that she is part of another divisional championship team.”

As for herself, “It feels great,” said Salazar. “We’ve worked hard for this.”

Salazar was brought up to the varsity in the midst of her freshman season. Cutliff is in her third varsity season.

Morro Bay upset top seed Tulare Western to get to the final. Third seed Righetti hung on to win its semifinal 10-9 at No. 2 Reedley.

“We survived their late surge in that one,” said Yee. “We led 8-4 going into the fourth quarter.”

There were no anxious moments in the fourth for the Division 2 champs in this one.

If there is a divisional team sportsmanship award, Morro Bay seems a deserving candidate. The Pirates held up their arms to form a bridge for the Warriors to run under to get their championship hardware.

Regional water polo tournaments are TBA.

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