With an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships on the line, the sixth-seeded UCSB men’s water polo team came up short of perfection in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament, losing to #3 Pepperdine in the first round before needing overtime to put away #7 Long Beach State and #10 UC Irvine in the consolation bracket last weekend.

The Gauchos (17-11 overall) began the tournament against a Waves squad (22-7) that had beaten them at home two weeks earlier. The outcome was little different this time around, as Pepperdine earned a 7-3 advantage by the end of the first half and never looked back. Junior attacker J.P. MacDonnell finished with a team-high three goals, and was critical defensively in shutting out UCSB in the third period. By the final frame, UCSB found themselves down 9-3 before outscoring the Waves 4-2 in the fourth on goals from senior driver Dane Lindstrom and sophomore utility Milos Golic. Golic, the MPSF’s lead goal-scorer with 81 goals on the year, led UCSB with three on the day. Defensively for the Gauchos, sophomore goalkeeper Fraser Bunn finished with six saves after Pepperdine got to him early. In the end, UCSB simply could not overcome a large first-round deficit en route to an 11-7 opening round loss.

“It was the first year in a while that we had a good match-up for the first game of the tournament,” said junior driver Sean Castillo. “Last year we had to play Cal and the year before we had to play SC, but this one was supposed to be very close. We almost went into overtime with them at home, so we knew it was going to be a close game. A couple of calls didn’t go our way, but we weren’t really playing as energetic as them.”

In the tournament’s second round, UCSB needed overtime yet again to put away the 49ers (14-18), earning an identical 13-12 victory to the win posted at Campus Pool on Nov. 8. Staying true to form, the match featured six lead changes and six ties throughout, with UCSB finally pulling away in the first sudden death period off a Golic goal to advance to the fifth-place match. The Serbian sensation, who tied his career high of seven goals during the last meeting, posted four on the afternoon including the game winner. Both teams had eight players score at least a goal during the affair, with senior two-meter Jake Kinne leading Long Beach with three. Junior goalkeeper Michael Robinson tied a career-high 14 saves for the Gauchos, while his junior counterpart Derek Wiebe-Bailey saved seven for the 49ers.

“After that loss [to Pepperdine], the best we could do was fifth place, and we at least wanted to do that,” said Castillo. “So when we played Long Beach, we knew we had to pull out a win. There were a bunch of great defensive stands on both sides, but we finally got it together at the end. It was pretty cool that we got the win.”

UCSB earned fifth place in the 2008 MPSF Tournament with a 9-7 overtime victory over Irvine (11-15), a team the Gauchos faced four times during the regular seasoning, going 3-1 in those encounters. Santa Barbara struggled in second period after earning a narrow 3-2 lead in the first. The Anteaters locked down the Gaucho offense to end the half, entering the intermission with a 5-3 lead. UCSB battled back in the second half, utilizing a Golic strike to go up 7-6 with 6:10 to go in regulation. Irvine refused to quit as junior two-meter Greg Enloe netted his only goal of the match with 1:31 to play, sending the game into overtime. UCSB, which finished the year 7-1 in overtime contests, seemed unfazed as freshman two-meter Noah Smith put the Gauchos ahead for good 51 seconds into the first overtime period. Junior two-meter Jesse Tootell added a goal of his own in the second to cement the victory and the fifth-place finish, Santa Barbara’s highest placement in Head Coach Wolf Wigo’s tenure.

“We got a couple of their guys in foul trouble, and scored whenever we needed to score,” said Castillo. “When we took it into overtime, we knew we were going to win because it was what we’d done all year. It was a pretty good tournament overall.”