The #14 UCSB men’s water polo team will have to wait until next year to quench its playoff dreams, dropping its finals matches Saturday 10-7 at #8 Long Beach State and Sunday 9-7 at home against #4 Irvine.
“We executed our game play, which was to shut down their leading player. It worked well – we’re getting the pieces together slowly,” UCSB Head Coach Wolf Wigo said. “We’ve played at home and we could have easily forced overtime, but there were some lapses in our defenses and we didn’t go into overtime.”
With the victory Saturday, the 49ers took the final berth in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) and left UCSB out in the cold in last place. The Gauchos came out slow and Long Beach went into the half with a 4-2 lead even without the services of senior two-meter Brett McCleave, who leads the team with 67 goals.
“We had a game plan and we stuck to it – we wanted to take out their best player,” senior goalkeeper Jon Bonafede said. “We took him out in the first quarter, which was a big accomplishment for us even though we lost.”
The 49ers scored four goals in the third period, and UCSB answered back in the fourth with four of its own, but it was too late with Long Beach taking the game 10-7. Senior driver Ramiro Saldain scored his final two goals as a Gaucho while freshman driver Miles Price contributed two goals of his own.
“We were hoping to upset Long Beach, but we didn’t play well enough to make that a reality,” senior two-meter Jarrod Muenter said. “We didn’t play our best game. [Against Irvine] we ran our frontcourt and ran the plays we practiced, and they worked but it wasn’t enough – that was the story all year.”
Against the Anteaters, Santa Barbara got on the board first with goals from freshmen drivers Price and Chris Lantz. UCSB went up 3-2 before Irvine drew even when freshman driver Taylor Wells took an unguarded shot just before the half.
The Gauchos tied the game at six in the fourth quarter on a power play goal from sophomore driver Matt Tilberg off an assist from freshman driver Travis Watts. Watts scored a goal from beyond the eight-meter mark before Irvine scored twice, with one coming off of a fast break and another because of weak defense. The two late goals gave the Anteaters the win.
“That’s what I’m in for, to take those shots. Luckily, it wasn’t just me, everyone was shooting,” Watts said. “It was definitely a game we wanted to win.”
Sunday was also Senior Day and the team said goodbye to seniors Bonafede, Muenter, Saldain, and driver Bret DeMuth.
“It’s been the most fun for me. It’s been a great season,” Bonafede said. “It was great to go out like this even though it wasn’t a win. It was a win to me.”