Two hours, four quarters, double sudden death, senior recognitions and one long-awaited broken streak.
The #9 UCSB men’s water polo team (18-11 overall) took #5 UC Irvine (15-12) deep into sudden death on Saturday at Campus Pool to win 8-7 and close out the season, snapping its five-game losing streak.
Before the match, seniors utility Brian Alexander and driver Andrew Schoneberger were honored during Senior Day ceremonies. In keeping with the theme of the day, Schoneberger scored the first goal, bringing his season total to 31 goals. By the end of the first quarter, the Gauchos were up on the Anteaters 2-1.
“Scoring first and last is what the seniors are supposed to do,” Head Coach Joe O’Brien said. “We haven’t played a great game in a while. Today’s game wasn’t all that well executed, but it was a great game. When it mattered most, the guys played hard.”
In the middle of the game, Irvine and Santa Barbara battled back and forth, vying for the lead. Although it was the seniors’ game, contribution wasn’t limited to senior players. Sophomore driver Ross Sinclair and junior utility Chris Gronow each netted two apiece, as part of a three-way tie for the most goals scored by the Gauchos. Junior goalie Jon Bonafede racked up 13 saves, totaling an impressive 257 for the year.
“Irvine is always a tough opponent,” Schoneberger said. “This is the fifth time we’ve faced them and we are 2-3 against them. They’re always tough, but it’s good to get a win.”
In the last two minutes of the second quarter, Alexander attempted a solid shot, which passed the goalie, but feebly bounced off the post and out of the pool. His hard work was rewarded during the second half of overtime and in sudden death.
“We have two great seniors and their work ethic is unbelievable,” Bonafede said. “They’re inspiring and do a great job, and it’s going to be sad when they leave next year.”
Alexander was the only Gaucho to score in overtime. His shot in double overtime brought Santa Barbara ahead 7-6, until Irvine senior utility Rick Merlo netted his third goal to tie the game for the sixth time. With one minute remaining in sudden death, Alexander scored his second goal of the game, bringing UCSB to victory.
“This game was sweet – it was a good way to go out,” Alexander said. “It’s good that we’re headed to the [Mountain Pacific Sports Federation] Tournament with the streak off our shoulders.”
UCSB will enter the MPSF Tournament at Stanford with the #8 seed and will face #1 UCLA.