SANTA CLARA -- Bellarmine College Prep won its 24th Central Coast Section water polo title with a 9-8 victory over Menlo-Atherton on Saturday, but not without some late-game drama.
The top-seeded Bells saw a two-goal lead disappear in the fourth quarter of the Division I title game on two goals by Menlo-Atherton standout Morgan Olson-Fabbro.
Then Bellarmine's Rico Burke got loose on a fast break and powered one past the M-A goalkeeper with 1:36 left.
All the Bells had to do was hold on, but that was no easy task. Menlo-Atherton got off three high-velocity shots in an attempt to tie, but Bellarmine goalkeeper Zach Laird was up to the challenge, blocking all three.
Soon it was time to celebrate, which Bellarmine first-year coach Colin Mello did in impulsive style, diving into the pool fully clothed and taking about five guys with him.
"You're never going to win a first championship in an easy way," said Mello, who replaced Larry Rogers, the coach who guided the Bells to those first 23 CCS titles.
Laird was an unlikely hero. The team's backup goalkeeper all season, he took over with starting keeper Jack Turner out because of illness.
"(Laird) came in and played his heart out," Mello said.
Olson-Fabbro led all scorers with five goals. Michael Blach led Bellarmine with four.
No. 3 seed Menlo-Atherton, after beating No. 2 St. Francis in the semifinals, nearly pulled off the upset.
"These guys really surprised the heck out of me," said M-A coach Dante Dettamanti, the former Stanford coach, of his team. "Our goal at the start of the season was to win league, which we did for the first time in 13 years. Our other goal was to make it to the final four. We did that and went one step further.
"To have one goal of difference in the championship game against Bellarmine, for us to be that close was a great accomplishment for this team."
Boys Division II
Sacred Heart Prep, which defeated Bellarmine for the West Catholic Athletic League title, had little difficulty in a 19-8 win over Los Altos for its fifth CCS title in the last six years.
The Gators outscored three CCS opponents by a combined 52-11.
"It was certainly the best season we've ever had, without question," said Sacred Heart Prep coach Brian Kreutzkamp, citing wins over several Southern California powers. "But if I say this is the best team I've ever had, I would get in trouble with Paul Rudolph (now playing for Stanford) and people like that."
The Gators scored eight goals in the second quarter in opening an 11-3 halftime lead. It was 16-4 after three quarters.
Harrison Enright, Bret Hinrichs, Zach Churukian and Nelson Perla-Ward scored three goals apiece for SHP. In all, 10 players scored.
Los Altos played SHP in the final each of the last two years, losing 7-4 last year.
"They didn't lose much off that team," Los Altos coach Johnny Bega said. "Their experience, speed and aggressiveness were overwhelming."
Girls Division I
St. Francis turned in a stellar defensive effort in an 8-3 win over Leland, avenging a 12-7 loss to the Chargers in the 2011 championship game and capturing the school's seventh CCS girls water polo title.
"It wasn't what we wanted last year," St. Francis coach Brendon Reutebuch said. "We turned the tables and had an exceptional game."
After a scoreless first quarter, St. Francis scored four goals in rapid succession in the second quarter to go up 4-0 at halftime. Leland didn't score until 4:05 was left in the third quarter. St. Francis goalkeeper Katherine Moore had 10 saves.
"Our defense held them to 16 shots and one of the best players in the CCS (Jamie Nolan) to one goal," Reutebuch said. "Our goal was to get to this point. The seniors worked tremendously hard."
Brittany Kirwan and Courtney Batcheller scored two goals apiece for the Lancers.
Girls Division II
Sacred Heart Prep won its sixth consecutive CCS title with a 7-5 win over St. Ignatius. The Gators held St. Ignatius scoreless in the fourth quarter and scored two goals of their own to pull away from a 5-5 tie after three quarters.
"Our defense in the fourth quarter was pivotal," SHP coach Jon Burke said. "That was our number one focus, setting the tone and character of the game through great defense."
Caitlin Stuewe led the Gators with three goals.