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Salinas, Salle bring Malvern Prep up for air against Haverford School

HAVERFORD >> The third-quarter intermission wasn’t the most pleasant of breaks on the Malvern Prep bench Thursday.

The Friars had frittered away a four-goal lead to Haverford School, which had rattled off five consecutive markers in their water polo match to wrest momentum away.

Something needed to change, and quickly, for the Friars.

“We just needed to get back into our game and not fall into their game,” senior Isaac Salinas said. “We were kind of falling into their game in the third quarter, letting them think they were in the game a little bit, but we went through it and executed well.”

Salinas took matters into his hands in the final frame, scoring three of his seven goals in the final seven minutes to pace Malvern to a 15-13 win.

Salinas put Malvern ahead for good a minute into the final quarter, then doubled the lead with a back-handed sweep off a Steven Salle feed a minute later to make it a 12-10 game. Salinas, who has applied to the United States Naval Academy, finished with seven goals and three assists.

But his less heralded moment of impact came on the final possession of the third quarter. With the Fords drawing an ejection and up a man, Salinas picked off a pass at the top of the arc to quell a threat, allowing the clock to expire.

The teams retreated to their benches even at 10 and the Fords’ momentum momentarily stemmed.

“I’m looking for them to be nervous, which they were,” Salinas said. “And I’m looking for their weaker players to make a move and look around and give away what they’re going to do. I can kind of tell when someone’s not too sure of themselves, and when they are, that’s when I know I need to be more.”

Those nerves translated into five fourth-quarter turnovers by the Fords, including three opportunities to take the lead at 10-all. They’d finished the climb back up the mountain when Ryan LaRocca set up brother, Matt, with 51 seconds left in the third.

“As a team, I believe we could’ve done a better job on offense and we could’ve shot much more,” said Haverford sophomore Matej Sekulic, who picked up a goal and two assists. “I think we should’ve done much more on their mistakes to capitalize on them.”

The duo that won the day, though, was Salinas and Salle, both of whom hope to play polo in college. Salle, who applied early decision to Dartmouth, tallied four goals and three assists. He set up all three of Salinas’ fourth-quarter goals and tapped home a near-post feed from Salinas on the wing to restore the two-goal lead at 13-11 with 3:52 left.

The seniors have played together since eighth grade. They also play club polo for Chelsea Piers Aquatic Club in Connecticut. With the game in the balance, the Friars leaned on that rapport.

“We have these looks when we see each other, I know where to put the ball and he knows where to put the ball,” Salle said. “There was one, a two-meter on the side, and I kind of just tipped my cap to him. He looked at me, threw it quick right in and I was able to punch it in. … In games like this, I know no one can guard him and he knows no one can guard me.”

The Fords’ comeback started on defense after spotting Malvern seven of the game’s first nine goals. Matt LaRocca (three goals, two assists) picked off a pass early in the second quarter to set up Ryan (two goals, assist) for a marker that started to turn the game. Matt LaRocca backhanded a third-chance shot into the net with six seconds left in the first half to get the Fords within 10-6.

TJ Brooks added two goals and two assists, and John Nelligan supplied a hat trick with two assists.

But the Fords yo-yoed between one and two goals behind throughout the fourth, before Malvern’s Jack Leyden provided the dagger on a long-range shot with 1:53 left. Griffin Delaney stopped eight shots, including a denial of Matt LaRocca with just over a minute to play, sealing the win.

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