The #6 UCSB men’s lacrosse team will be out to make a statement in the first round of the Western Collegiate Lacrosse League playoffs this weekend, taking on #9 UC San Diego at home in the quarterfinals.
The Gauchos (9-5 overall) dropped an 8-7 overtime decision to the Tritons on March 11 in the First 4 lacrosse invitational, the only time the two teams have met this season.
“I wouldn’t call it revenge, I would call it redemption,” senior defender and co-captain Damon Conklin-Moragne said. “We lost the game in overtime and gave it up in the final minutes. We had a breakdown, so we want to get them back and we have to prove to ourselves that we can hold the lead.”
After trailing 7-4 early in the fourth quarter, the Tritons pulled even with three unanswered goals that came in the final three minutes of regulation. UC San Diego senior midfield Morgan Silldorff won the face-off to open overtime. Senior All-American attack Nick Dean also lived up to his accolades, putting away the game-winner for the Tritons.
“Basically, we played 57 minutes of good lacrosse last time and in this one, we have to play 60,” senior midfield and co-captain Nick Schooler said. “They won the game in the last three minutes.”
Since the loss to UC San Diego, the Gauchos have won four of their last six, including three straight. Last weekend, Santa Barbara finished out the regular season with a 12-6 win over USC and an 8-4 victory at UCLA. Nine UCSB players recorded at least one point against USC, with senior attack Nick Stratton and junior midfield Cache Jones combining for seven goals.
“The wins were something we really needed after having a couple midseason losses that kind of slowed us down,” Schooler said. “We had momentum earlier in the season after the wins over Chapman and BYU in overtime and then we hit some losses. It’s nice to have three wins to get us into playoffs.”
The wins secured a home game for the quarterfinals and gave UCSB an undefeated record in the Los Angeles Division of the WCLL.
“[Playing at home] is a big advantage,” Schooler said. “There’s nothing like The Pit, having the fans that close to field and being familiar with bounces and how to pick up the ball is huge for us.”
Santa Barbara has made changes over the past few weeks to help prepare them for the playoffs, focusing on ball possession and defense. The Gauchos have also been playing freshman defender Chris Schaible on the wing to assist in winning face-offs.
“We’ve made some defensive adjustments,” Conklin-Moragne said. “We know we need to control the ball a lot more. We have to value each possession we have. Face-offs are really crucial and we’ve improved those in the last three games.”
With Dean, the leading scorer in the WCLL with 41 goals and 47 assists, and junior attack Chris McCall – fourth in the league in scoring – the Tritons finished the regular season with a 10-4 record and pose a threat to knock the defending National Champion Gauchos out of the playoffs.
UCSB however, boasts two straight Men’s Division Intercollegiate Associates National Championships, a balanced offensive attack with 15 players recording at least one point this season and the sixth-best goalie in the WCLL in junior Mike Sheridan and his 4.69 goals against average.
“The key will be executing our game plan,” Schooler said. “If we stick to it, there’s nothing [UC San Diego] can do.”
The road to a UCSB National Championship “three-peat” begins Saturday at The Pit, with opening face-off scheduled for 3:30 p.m.