After a firework finish Friday afternoon at Campus Pool, perhaps Head Coach Wolf Wigo put it best.
“Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, [this game] did it,” Wigo said. “Just another great game by both teams. They had a power play in sudden death three times on us, and we still won.”
In what is now becoming a growing trend, the #8 UCSB men’s water polo team survived its second-consecutive match decided in sudden death with a marathon 10-9 victory over #7 UC San Diego, a victory that needed not one, not two, but seven overtime periods to achieve.
The weekend’s match marks the fourth time this season the Gauchos (12-7 overall) have needed extras to settle the score, and have gone 3-1 in such cases, their only loss coming against the Tritons (14-7) during the SoCal Tournament.
UCSB had not beaten UCSD since Oct. 5 of last year, and in the early first period San Diego looked to continue that drought. Leading 4-2 at halftime, UCSD looked firmly in control after big goals from junior two-meter Daniel Garcia, who would finish with a team-high four goals. After trading goals in the third, UCSB still found itself down 6-4, and then 7-4 after a quick Triton goal to begin the final period.
Then, Milos Golic showed up. The sophomore utility took over the game in the fourth, netting three of his four goals in the final minutes when his team needed him the most. Golic, who extended his scoring streak to a remarkable 23 games, leads the MPSF with 56 goals, a number that has already surpassed last season’s mark of 53 with six regular season games left. Number 56 could not have come at a better time, as after a mid-pool steal by the Gauchos, Golic was able to find the equalizer with only two seconds remaining in regulation.
“[Golic] was great; he was bound to get a couple,” said senior driver Dane Lindstrom. “He was shooting terribly the whole game. He just doesn’t give up; it’s pure effort with him. When he wants to take a guy one-on-one, he’s going to get a goal most of the time.”
In overtime, junior driver Stefan Partelow gave Santa Barbara its first lead of the match off another breakaway goal, but San Diego took it back with crucial plays by senior A.J. Kotanjian, who finished with three goals. Down 9-8 with 2:33 left, freshman two-meter Noah Smith found a seam in the middle of the Triton defense to tie the game up in the second overtime period.
It would stay tied for the closing minutes of overtime and then for the next four sudden-death periods, a span that amounted to 15 minutes of tense water polo. Both goalkeepers posted record-breaking performances: freshman David Morton broke San Diego’s single game save record with 19, while sophomore Fraser Bunn posted a career-high 20 saves for Santa Barbara.
“[Bunn] was in goal last time we lost to [San Diego].” said Lindstrom. “But he made some huge saves and played really well even with the sun moving around a lot.”
In the end, however, it would be the Gauchos who came out on top. After surviving three man-down situations in sudden death, once UCSB earned a power play they were able to capitalize. When senior driver Adnan Jerkovic was ejected with 44 seconds remaining in the fifth sudden death, junior two-meter defender Kendall Olds played the part of hero with a magnificent strike not eight seconds later to end the match, setting off a thunderous celebration from the Gaucho faithful. It was only Olds’ third goal of the season.
“We had played some terrible offense, and it was about time [we scored],” said Lindstrom. “We’d been working too hard to not have any results.”
UCSB resumes MPSF play next weekend when they pay visits to #3 Cal and #17 Pacific on November first and second, respectively.