Irvine placed in the middle of the pack among 16 teams, defeating Princeton, 15-7, and UC San Diego 9-8, while being defeated by Pepperdine, 9-11.
UCI kicked off the tournament sluggishly in a game against Pepperdine. The Anteaters fell behind 4-2 in the first quarter — a lead that soon grew to 3-7 at the end of the half.
“We really just made too many small errors against [Pepperdine],” Head Coach Marc Hunt said. “There weren’t major mistakes. The small errors just added up.”
Things got even worse when the Waves earned their largest lead of 3-8. However, the Anteaters would not go down without a fight.
“Most teams at five goals down in the 3rd period would just roll over and die but we didn’t, we never gave up,” Hunt said.
The Anteaters turned things around as they started eating into the Waves’ lead late in the 3rd period and continued that momentum in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 9-9 with a goal from sophomore Trent Baxter.
However, Pepperdine stopped the Anteater run dead in their tracks when they scored back-to-back goals to take a two point lead late in the fourth, 11-9.
The Anteaters turned things around with their game against the 14 ranked Princeton Tigers. This time, Irvine was off the blocks quick with a 2-0 lead in the first quarter, which quickly turned into a 7-1 lead by the end of the half.
The Tigers never recovered from the staggering six point deficit as the Anteaters continued to stretch the lead to the largest of the game in the third period, 12-2, with a goal from senior Cole Bielskis. Bielskis led all scorers in the game with four goals.
“Princeton just was not as tough a team as Pepperdine, or some of the other teams in the top 10. Every team in the top 10 is contentious with one another — once you are outside of the top ten there is somewhat of a drop,” Hunt said.
However, UCI would soon find itself fighting off a team outside the top ten — the 11th ranked Tritons of UC San Diego.
The teams were neck and neck for the majority of the game; neither team earned a lead greater than one point throughout the first three periods of play. However, Irvine began to pull away after junior Brandon Johnson and senior Tom Kruip scored back-to-back goals stretching Irvine’s lead to 8-5 late in the fourth quarter.
However, the Tritons began to eat away at the Anteater lead with risky offensive play.
“Sometimes when teams get down they take risks. That is what [UC San Diego] did, and they capitalized on them,” Hunt said.
First, the Tritons brought the lead to two after UC San Diego scored with 1:27 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Tritons continued on the same note when Irvine received a kick out, and San Diego converted on the man-up play, scoring with 47 seconds left on the clock. With only a few possessions left in play, senior Greg Enloe came up with a defensive stop to end the Triton surge.
“We made some huge defensive plays. San Diego has some great shooters … we did really well to hold them off,” Hunt said.
The Anteaters will play against Long Beach State at the Anteater pool on Thursday.
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