Last Thursday, the UCSB men’s lacrosse team played its third division game in a row; taking on the University of Southern California. In its penultimate game before the playoffs, UCSB needed the win to keep up with division rival Chapman University, who they will play tomorrow. After four intense quarters of play, the Gauchos stood victorious, moving to 9-4 overall and 4-0 in their division and into a first-place tie with Chapman.
The first three quarters of play against USC belonged to the Gauchos. Over the 45-minute span of those quarters, Santa Barbara outshot the Trojans 38-13, which led to an 8-4 advantage for UCSB heading into the final quarter.
“We did what we wanted to do with limiting their shots and being disruptive to their offense, but they did a good job with the shots they did have and kept it interesting,” Head Coach Mario Waibel said.
Things certainly did get interesting in the final quarter of play. USC, desperate for a comeback, managed to hold the Gauchos to just four shots and took six of their own. They brought the deficit to just one goal with just a few minutes remaining, but fell just short of forcing overtime as the Gauchos held on for the 8-7 win.
“USC was fighting for a playoff spot so they were fired up the whole game,” Waibel said. ”We had to stay sharp to walk away with the win.”
The Gauchos have one more test coming their way in the form of Chapman University this Saturday. The 12-1 Panthers are currently tied for first in their division with UCSB, which means that the outcome of this game, while it does have implications for the playoffs, more immediately determines the division champion.
“[The game] does have playoff implications, but we are only focused on playing this game at the moment,” Waibel said. ”This is for the division title and that is something that we have been working toward all season.”
If the Gauchos want the title, they are going to have to work for it. The Panthers’ powerhouse of an offense has outscored its opponents by a cumulative score of 182-102 and outshot its opponents 526-393, and they are strongest in the first quarter, which means that if the Gauchos are not careful, Chapman could put them into a deep, early hole.
“We are going to have to bring our ‘A’ game to be successful,” Waibel said. “It will take a strong team defensive effort to hold their powerful offense at bay and put ourselves in a position to win. I am confident our guys will be up to the challenge.
If any defense is up to the challenge, it is UCSB’s. The Gauchos are 8-1 since February 15 despite only scoring double digit goals in three of those games and have held their opponents to five goals or fewer in five games this season, and much of that success is due to the outstanding play of senior goalie Zack Carson. However, Chapman’s offense won’t be the Gauchos’ only problem. They will also have to try to score on Chapman’s goalie, Matt Sathrum, who is no slouch. Sathrum has made 93 saves this season for a 52.8 save percentage, which is no mean feat. Yet once again, Coach Waibel is confident that his team is up for the challenge.
“We have to keep the ball moving and be disciplined shooters,” Waibel said. ”We don’t want to give him any easy saves by standing and shooting.”
The fight for the division championship will take place this Saturday in The Pit. The first face-off is set for 1:00 p.m.