UCSB had a tall order trying to knock off top-ranked UC Irvine and solidify a seed in this weekend’s Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship.
Unfortunately for the #10 Gauchos (6-16 overall, 1-8 MPSF), the Anteaters would not let Santa Barbara have its way in the last regular season match at Campus Pool on Saturday. Eager to close their season with a win, senior driver Paul Rave led UCSB with three goals, but it wasn’t enough to top Irvine, who beat Santa Barbara, 10-8.
"They have a size advantage and they have a lot of speed," said senior driver Elijah McDanniel, who was commemorated with Rave prior to the match. "We wanted to shut down their ball side drives and take smart shots that wouldn’t lead to their counterattack. I don’t think we stepped up to that in the beginning, but we did near the end of the game."
Rave got the Gauchos off to a good start by scoring the first goal of the game. The Anteaters soon stirred things up by scoring the next three goals – two by Jeff Powers and the other by Dan Klatt – to give Irvine a two-point lead. With 16 seconds remaining in the first period, sophomore driver Kyle Ashley put UCSB within one.
"They came out physical and we weren’t ready for that, which put them ahead a couple of goals in the beginning," junior two-meter man Eric Vlasic said. "From there we had to play catch-up the rest of the game. We got stronger as the game progressed, but we were still behind the whole time."
Irvine made its presence felt in the second quarter by coming out with a bang. Powers launched the ball over junior goalie Trevor Spence’s head and less than two minutes later, Irvine had a fast break to take a 5-2 lead. Sophomore two-meter man Patrick Treman took matters into his own hands and executed a shot with two men on him. The second quarter ended with UCSB down by only two.
In the third quarter, Irvine exploded for four goals and shut down the Gaucho offense, leading 9-3 at the start of the fourth quarter.
"The first few goals were off of offensive fouls which I don’t think were good calls," UCSB Head Coach Joe O’ Brien said. "The second two goals, we had ejections or power plays where they scored off of the counterattack. We didn’t get good calls, which hurt us, and we didn’t react to those calls well, which hurt us, too. But you have to give Irvine credit. They kept countering the whole game. They know each other well, better than we did. They are a group of guys who have been playing together a long time and that showed."
Irvine opened the fourth quarter with a goal. However, with 3:29 remaining, Vlasic sent the ball flying past goalie Dan Hipp. With less than three minutes remaining, Rave and McDanniel put forth stellar performances by scoring the next three goals to put UCSB within three. With five seconds remaining, Vlasic pumped another ball past Hipp, but UCSB’s comeback fell two points shy and the Gauchos lost by two.
"I still feel like we haven’t quite reached our potential for the year," O’ Brien said. "We’ve had times where we’ve had glimpses of it, but we just haven’t had the crucial play in a lot of those games. Our potential is still in front of us and there is still room for us to grow as we come into the conference tournament."
The Gauchos will now have to compete against Stanford for a seed in the MPSF championship on Nov. 24.