The UCI Men’s Water Polo team stretched its win streak to eight games on Friday with a tough victory against number 11 ranked UC San Diego. The Anteaters won 7-6. The win brought UC Irvine’s record to 13-5 overall.
Sophomore Trent Baxter put in a goal off the top of the cross bar with 2:28 remaining in the fourth quarter to give UCI the push it needed to close the game.
The Anteaters got off to a slow start, failing to put in a goal in the first quarter, and scoring only once in the second. The Tritons on the other hand, came out gunning, going on a 3-0 run before Brandon Johnson scored in the second to put Irvine on the map. The Anteaters trailed 4-1 by the end of the first half.
The second half, however, was a different story, as the Anteaters took a bite out of the UCSD lead with a four-goal quarter. By the end of the third quarter the teams were tied at 5-5.
“We are starting to execute better. Our ability to score has improved quite a bit,” Head Coach Marc Hunt said.
In the fourth quarter both teams exchanged goals. UCSD enjoyed a lead after they scored off a power play early in the fourth quarter. However, their lead was short lived after senior Tom Kruip tied the game at 6-6 and Baxter put in the winning goal late in the fourth quarter.
The team next took on fourth ranked UCLA in a conference match up. The Anteaters made a valiant effort late in the second to take the game into overtime however UCLA thwarted the Anteater offensive to win 8-7.
Both teams came off the block slow with each only scoring one goal in the first period to finish tied at 1-1.
“The game plan in the first half was to take the air out of the ball and slow the pace down. We didn’t want to let them dictate play. Unfortunately, by doing so we become much more relaxed on offense. We were not aggressive enough,” Hunt said.
UCLA picked up on the lack of intensity in the second quarter and began to make a run quick with a goal early in the period. From then on the Bruins dictated play stretching that goal to a 3-0 run. At the end of the half, Irvine was trailing 4-1.
Things seemed as if it would only get worse in the second as UCLA continued to punish Irvine for its slowness. The Bruins eventually took a 7-2 lead with only a period and a half to go.
“When [UCLA] was up I told the guys we had to take more risks. They had to play more aggressive. When they did, it paid off,” Hunt said.
The Anteaters turned things around with more aggressive play and picked up momentum after Brandon Johnson put in a penalty goal in the middle of the third period. From that point on, the Anteaters took control of the game.
“It was the intensity we played at. In the first and second quarter we did not play with the energy we should have. In the third and fourth we came out with much more intensity,” senior whole-set Greg Enloe said.
The Anteaters scored once more during the third period, continuing where they left off in the fourth. UCI turned the 2-0 run they had in the fourth quarter into five unanswered goals after junior Doug Lindsey put in a goal on a power play with a little more than two minutes left in regulation to tie the game at 7-7.
However, the Bruins finally were able to answer the Anteater run with a goal off a power play on the very next possession.
The Anteaters had one last chance to bring the game into overtime after they received a power play with less than 30 seconds on the clock, but could not convert a goal. UCLA ran the clock out until the game ended to hold on to win.
“We got the shot we wanted [during the power play]. We got it to the shooter we wanted to take the shot in the position where he should’ve been. The [UCLA] goalie just made a good save, you have to credit him with that,” Hunt said.
The defeat was an improvement from the last time these two teams met however, where the Bruins handily defeated the Anteaters, 10-4.
“We have come a long way and worked hard, and it is paying off. We may have lost, but we have the confidence to be able to play against any of the top teams,” Hunt said.
Hunt later expressed that his goals on the season for UCI have not diminished even the slightest bit.
“We are looking to win our conference, nothing less. We can take out any big name out there,” Hunt said.
Next up, the Anteaters take on Cal this Saturday, the 31st, at Berkeley.
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