The No. 5-ranked UCSB men’s water polo team guaranteed itself a spot in the MPSF postseason tournament with a 12-10 win over No. 10 UC Irvine on Saturday.
“This was a game that we really needed to win,” junior attacker Jesse Gillespie said. “It feels great for all of us that we were able to pull it through.”
With the victory, UCSB improved to 15-9 overall and 3-4 in conference, with one game remaining before the MPSF tournament. The Gauchos excelled behind strong play from their pair of goalkeepers, sophomore Jay Lovero and junior Myles Christian.
Lovero played the first three quarters for UCSB, making eight saves while allowing eight goals, before Christian entered in the fourth quarter. Christian allowed two goals in the period while saving three shots to close out the match and ensure a win for the Gauchos.
“Jay actually had a lot of great moments; he had a lot of big steals for us,” Gillespie said. “Both goalies did well. Miles just has a little more experience under his belt so it’s a little more reassuring to have him out there. He made a lot of big blocks in the fourth quarter.”
Down by a goal in the fourth, Irvine seemed poised to tie the game up with a six-to-five man advantage before freshman utility Chase Racich made a game-changing steal for the Gauchos. In the fourth quarter, UCSB gained an advantage when sophomore 2-meter defender Scott Bishop sent a crossing pass to freshman utility Jake Miller, who gave the Gauchos a two-goal lead.
“I think we’re all really excited about how we’re doing this year,” sophomore Scott Bishop said. “There are only two weeks left in our whole season and everybody is just getting down to work and powering through it the best that we can.”
UCSB displayed a balanced offensive attack against Irvine with eight players scoring goals. Junior utility Brian Shoemaker, along with three freshmen — Racich, and attackers Derek Shoemaker and Eric Van de Mortel — led the Gauchos with two goals apiece.
“It was huge — it was probably one of our biggest games of the season,” Gillespie said. “Everyone had a strong mentality towards this game and just really prepared all throughout the game. We didn’t give up mentally or physically throughout the entire four quarters.”
In last weekend’s loss against Pacific, UCSB entered the fourth period with a two-goal advantage before giving up the lead. Facing a similar situation in Saturday’s match, the Gauchos were determined not to make the same mistake twice.
“I feel like that’s what really pushed us,” Bishop said. “Coach said to think about that feeling in that fourth-quarter break and I think that really worked for us.”
Clinching the fifth seed in the MPSF tournament was critical for the Gauchos, as it proved they are one of the top teams in the nation despite their overall youth and inexperience as a team.
“That’s been our biggest goal for a couple of weeks,” Gillespie said. “We knew that we had this game coming up, and we knew it’d be an important deciding factor in the rest of the season.”
UCSB travels to face No. 1 UCLA on Saturday.