The No. 6 UCSB men’s water polo team put on a show with an amazing fourth quarter comeback, but in the end fell to No. 1 Pacific with a close score of 11-9 in its final home game of the season.
The Gauchos maintain their sixth place standing in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation and now hold an overall record of 16-8 and a 3-4 record in conference play. The Pacific Tigers are currently tied with UCLA for first place in the MPSF standings and advance their record to 18-3 overall and 5-1 in conference.
Sunday’s game marked the third time this season that the Gauchos have found themselves in a fourth quarter, one-goal situation against Pacific.
“I’m so proud of the guys, and the crowd was unreal,” senior attacker Matt Gronow said. “The heart we showed towards the end of the game, and getting within a goal with a minute and a half left — I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Pacific scored the first goal of the game, and a power play opportunity gave them a 2-0 lead early in the first period. Aside from this setback, the Gaucho offense dominated possession-wise, and two quick goals from sophomore attacker Kevin Cappon and Gronow tied the match at 2-2. The Tigers were able to regain their lead with two more goals, one of which came from senior hole-set Goran Tomasevic, giving him his third goal of the game. The first period ended with Pacific in the lead at 4-2.
Pacific’s offensive momentum continued into the second period and they increased their lead to 7-4, capitalizing on multiple power play opportunities.
“That team has a lot of fire power,” Head Coach Wolf Wigo said. “They had a lot of power play opportunities and we shut them down on quite a few; that is why we were able to stay in the game.”
The second half was an entirely different performance from the Gauchos. They were able to stop the man-up opportunities, and several individual players made their presence known.
Junior attackers Derek Shoemaker and Eric Van de Mortel led the offensive push, combining for three goals and putting the Gauchos in the close range of 10-8. Pacific answered back with several strong drives on the goal, but sophomore goalkeeper Chris Whitelegge was able to hold them off. Out of Whitelegge’s 16 saves of the game, seven of them were made in the fourth quarter. Gronow set the crowd over the edge when he scored an unassisted goal in the final minutes of the game, putting the Gauchos in a one-goal range.
Despite the dramatic comeback, the Gauchos were not able to capitalize on their final power play of the game. With 24 seconds left, Pacific scored and solidified their victory with a final score of 11-9.
“We missed a penalty shot and we missed our last power play,” Wigo said. “If you want to beat the No. 1 team in the country, you’ve got to do everything right.”
Aside from the final score, the Gauchos demonstrated their level of play is equal with that of the top ranked team in the country.
“I thought we came back and made a game of it,” Shoemaker said.
The Gauchos play their last conference game of the season against UCLA next Sunday at 11 a.m.
This article is an online exclusive and did not appear in the print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Margarita Baliyan of the Daily Nexus.