Emerson Kirk is a smart guy.
The Memorial High senior with a 4.54 GPA -- on track to be class valedictorian -- knew he and his teammates had worked too hard to let up after 28 grueling minutes of regulation at the Division II boys water polo final Saturday at Clovis North's pool.
So Kirk fired in three of his game-high five goals over the next 6 minutes to propel the top-seeded Panthers past No. 2 Tulare 10-6 in overtime for the school's first Central Section water polo championship.
"I was exhausted," Kirk said. "But I realized this is the last 6 minutes of my high school water polo career, so I just went all out. This has been my dream for a long time. It took years of hard work to accomplish."
Kirk's goal at 1:43 during the first of two 3-minute overtime periods -- off an assist from Kevin Benscheidt -- gave Memorial (24-7) a lead it would not relinquish at 7-6.
He scored two more times in the second overtime period -- at 2:44 off a Joey Frelka assist and at 1:20 when he outswam Tulare's defense on a fastbreak counter -- to give the Panthers a commanding three-goal lead.
Memorial coach John Vinuela said Kirk knows when to elevate his game.
"That's what makes him such a great player," Vinuela said. "His heart drives him through the game. We just had to get him the ball and he knows that to do with it."
Tulare -- which forced overtime on Erik Pederson's goal with 2:29 left in the fourth quarter -- went cold in overtime. The Redskins (28-5) were 0 for 6 shooting in overtime, with three shots blocked by Memorial keeper Tristan Ferdinandi.
"Our shots just didn't fall in overtime," Tulare coach Bill Freeman said. "We had our chances."
Michael Favagrossa converted off a Benscheidt pass to provide the Panthers' final score during a game that was never separated by more than two scores during regulation. It was Favagrossa's second goal; his first put Memorial on the board in the first quarter.
"I just wanted to put the nail in the coffin," Favagrossa said. "But I couldn't have done it without the assist from Ben- scheidt."
Memorial trailed 5-4 entering the fourth quarter, but got goals from Kirk and Patrick O'Rourke -- both assisted by Benscheidt, who finished with five -- to avert a loss to a team the Panthers throttled 12-4 back in September.
"I had faith in the team," Favagrossa said. "I never once thought we wouldn't pull it out."
The Panthers, co-champions of the County/Metro Athletic Conference, also received two goals from Tyler Donaghy and 13 saves from Ferdinandi.
Pederson and Austin Moules each scored two goals and James Keen made 13 saves to pace Tulare, champs of the East Yosemite League.
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