The Battle for the Bell game in boys’ water polo is intense.
To Costa Mesa High sophomore Joey Palmblade, though, Wednesday’s Orange Coast League match was also a sort of reunion.
Palmblade, the Mustangs’ starting goalie, knows many of the Estancia players well. He went to school with them at Victoria Elementary and TeWinkle Intermediate. But when it came time to go to high school, Palmblade chose Costa Mesa.
He may be friends with the Estancia players out of the water, but he shut the Eagles down in it.
Palmblade made 18 saves as Costa Mesa routed Estancia, 24-4, at the Mustangs’ pool. It was the seventh straight Battle for the Bell game victory for Costa Mesa.
“It was good to see their faces again and to play against them,” Palmblade said. “It really was fun. I got to play against all my friends, so it’s awesome.”
Costa Mesa (8-7, 2-0 in league) has not lost a step with Palmblade in his first year starting in goal. He also had three steals in Wednesday’s contest.
“His work ethic is unbelievable,” Mustangs assistant coach Dustin Serrano said. “Sometimes our goalie coach [Morgan Turner] isn’t around for the first hour because she has another job, and he runs his own practice. I don’t even have to worry about Joey. I know that Joey’s going to give 110% in practice and he just does his job.”
The Mustangs as a unit did their job against Estancia (6-6, 1-1). Senior Tony Shin led the way with nine goals.
Shin was a center defender before this year, but he was moved to two meters early this season. He switched spots with Augie Cunningham, who was still able to put in five goals on Wednesday, adding four assists and three steals.
“Augie, you put him in the middle [on defense], and he’s taking so much space,” Serrano said. “You put Tony in [center], and Tony’s just a ball of muscle. It’s really hard to defend against a guy that size, with all of the muscle that he has.”
Freshman Noah Gniffke added three goals and three steals for the Mustangs, ranked No. 10 in CIF Southern Section Division 3, who led 9-2 after the first quarter and 14-2 at halftime. Caedmon Fisher, Teak Zachary and Dien Do each scored twice, and Gabe Gerber added a goal.
But it was Shin who powered the offense, scoring seven goals in the first half.
“I thought I didn’t have the potential to do that, but they gave me the opportunity to shoot it, and I just shot it,” he said. “It happened to be nine times.”
Freshman Logan Richards led Estancia with a pair of goals, with Jake Blinn and Alex Epperson scoring once each. Epperson’s goal was impressive, from mid-tank at the first-quarter buzzer.
Jose Castaneda had five saves and four steals for the Eagles, who played with just eight players (one substitute). Estancia coach Mitch White said two seniors are currently ineligible, and another one quit the team. Only three seniors were in the water, in Epperson, Cobi White and Chris Bauer.
Freshman goalie Griffin Beth broke his thumb in the first week of practice, so the Eagles had to adapt. Castaneda and Epperson have been trying to fill the hole in goal. Also, Estancia is playing home games and having practices at Costa Mesa High this year while the Eagles’ new pool is being built.
“Right now, we just don’t have the numbers, because we don’t have a pool or a feeder program,” White said. “Some of the kids don’t get here. I have a bus, but they don’t make it to the bus, then they don’t have a ride. It’s not that far away, but it is when you’re walking. It’s just going to be a tough year.”
Still, White said he is hopeful his team will beat Saddleback on Oct. 18, and earn a wild-card berth into the Division 6 playoffs.
As for Costa Mesa, the Mustangs have been playing a lot of games lately. They were in the Villa Park tournament last weekend and compete in the South Bay tournament beginning Friday.
“I think this is the weekend where it’s all going to come together,” Serrano said. “We’re looking good; we’re confident in our team.”