After suffering a tough loss to Loyola Marymount last week, the No. 12 UC Irvine men’s water polo team rebounded with a nail-biting 9-8 win against Pepperdine, snapping its three-game losing streak en route to their first home victory of the season.
Heading into the fourth period with a 5-4 lead, the Anteaters quickly tried to put the game out of reach. The period opened with junior driver Colin Mello being awarded a penalty shot. Mello converted on his opportunity, scoring a goal past Pepperdine goalie Travis Stachowsky in the lower right corner of the net. The Anteaters scored three of the next four goals and cushioned their lead 9-5.
The Anteaters were unable to close the door on the pesky Waves, however, as Pepperdine mounted a furious comeback in the game’s final period. With just three minutes remaining in the game, the Waves scored three consecutive goals, cutting their deficit to one. With ten seconds left, the Waves had one last chance to tie the match and send the game into overtime. The Anteaters’ defense had other plans as they managed to deflect Pepperdine’s final shot and run out the clock for the victory.
‘With a young team, getting a win can offer a lot of experience and we did just that,’ said UCI Head Coach Marc Hunt. ‘Tonight, good things happened and we got a positive outcome.’
Despite allowing the Waves to score the first goal of the night, the Anteaters quickly answered with two goals and didn’t relinquish the lead for the rest of the match. The young Anteaters played exceptional defense down the stretch to secure their win, improving to a 5-8 overall record.
Freshman driver Kyle Baxter scored the first goal for the Anteaters and finished the game tying his season high with three goals total.
‘This was definitely a morale boost for us,’ Baxter said. ‘Coming in here and getting the first win at home feels good. It was a big win.’
The Anteaters kept up their strong play in the second period, led by Mello and an aggressive offensive attack. Mello scored two of his team-high four goals in the second period, one of which was a line drive down the center of the goal. Mello is currently leading the team with 40 goals this season and is quickly emerging as the team’s top offensive threat.
The Anteaters headed into the half with a three-goal lead 5-2. However, the Waves rallied the final two periods to make it a close game.
Even though UCI outscored their opponent in the first two periods, the Anteaters were held scoreless in the third period as the Waves (4-8) supplied enough offense to get themselves back in the game. Pepperdine center Doug Mann would score two goals in the third period to cut the Anteaters’ lead to 5-4 going into the fourth period.
The Anteaters received a tremendous effort from sophomore driver Cole Beilskis, who added two goals ,and junior goalie Matt Garcia who recorded a season-high 16 saves.
‘It feels good to end the [losing] streak,’ Garcia said. ‘We showed a great demonstration of what the team was working on. We have the weapons to get the job done but we need more wins like this to give us more experience.’
Prior to the three-game losing streak, the Anteaters’ last win was, ironically, against the Waves at the Northern California Tournament at Stanford. Unlike previous games, the Anteaters managed to maintain the lead after the first period and executed their game plan.
‘Tonight was a good team effort with everybody playing their role,’ Hunt said. ‘When everybody is on the same page and things are working, we can win.’
The Anteaters hope their win against Pepperdine will be the catalyst for a successful second half of the season as they look to advance to the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championships.
‘We had lost three overtime games so far this season,’ Mello said. ‘This win gives us the confidence we need to win close games down the stretch.’
Irvine’s next game will be against UC Santa Barbara on Oct. 14-15 in the Southern California Tournament, which will be held on the USC campus.
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