The UCSB men’s water polo team nearly completed an upset of No. 1 Stanford on Sunday, before late game heroics salvaged the match 6-5 for the Cardinal in Palo Alto.
The Gauchos drop to 11-6 on the year, and begin Mountain Pacific Sports Federation conference play at 0-1, while Stanford improves to 9-2 and 2-0 in the MPSF.
“We’re really bummed,” junior goalkeeper Myles Christian said. “It was our game to win or lose and it was just unfortunate.”
The key to the match may have been the pace. The game was low- scoring and much more defensive-minded, playing to the Cardinal’s strength. The Gauchos were held to five goals, which is nearly seven below their average.
UCSB came out strong, taking a 3-2 lead after the first quarter. Then, a shut-out by the Gauchos in the second quarter increased their lead to 4-2 heading into halftime.
“Everything was going our way first half,” Christian said. “We were executing offensively and making big shot blocks on defense.”
The best team in the nation wasn’t about to give up. By the end of the third quarter, the game was tied, setting up for an intense fourth quarter. The score remained deadlocked at four apiece until freshman attacker Eric Van de Mortel gave the Gauchos the edge with two minutes left. The goal was Van de Mortel’s second of the day, as he led the attack for UCSB.
“It was close in the fourth and Eric put us up one,” Christian said. “I thought for sure that was the game-winning goal.”
Shortly after, freshman utility and player of the week Alex Bowen capitalized on a Gaucho ejection, tying the score once again.
Then, with 30 seconds left, senior driver Jacob Smith stole the ball and led the fast break. After a timeout to draw up the final play, Smith was rewarded for his defensive efforts and scored the final goal of the match with four seconds remaining.
“It was very heartbreaking,” Christian said. “I feel we outplayed Stanford.”
Smith’s second goal of the day was Stanford’s first lead of the match and completed a come-from-behind 6-5 victory. Senior goalkeeper Brian Pingree tallied six saves for the day.