UC Irvine men’s water polo (15-9) took down UCSB and CSULB in the first two games of the Golden Coast Conference tournament.
In the opening round of the conference tournament UCI bested UCSB 10-7. The ‘Eaters, 1-1 with the Gauchos this year, took control of the game after giving up an early goal. They would end the 1st, leading 2-1.
The 2nd quarter led to an explosion of UCI goals. Four unanswered goals and great defensive consistency gave the ‘Eaters the 6-1 advantage at the half.
However, Despite the ‘Eater’s best efforts, UCSB responded with 5 goals to knot the game 6-6 with 5:12 left to play in the 3rd.
UCI reestablished their composure and scored three back to back goals of their own, going on to win the game with a final score of 10-7.
In the second round of their conference tournament, UCI faced rival Cal State Long Beach, who they fell to 7-8 in thrilling bout just a week ago. A victory in this round of the tournament, puts the winner in the conference finals and guarantees them a berth in the NCAA tournament if another team in a conference outside of GCC falters.
The ‘Eaters would again have to conquer frustrating momentum shifts in their pursuit of victory. The game’s momentum would first be taken by the 49ers who opened with two unanswered goals.
UCI was able to put a goal on the board, but trailed 1-2 at the end of the first. Senior Brendan Duffy cut the lead in half with a skip-shot goal with 1:44 left to play in the half. Before the period’s close however, Long Beach scored thrice, making the score 2-5.
To start the third, the ‘Eaters knew they had their back to the wall and needed to produce offensively. Junior Jack Trush found the back of the net three times during the third, the final goal coming off a backhand shot to surprise the Long Beach defense and excite the Irvine crowd.
“We just try to win each moment” Trush said about the team’s mentality when trying to regain momentum. “We are not looking at the score when it is 5-2, we are just taking each moment and our seniors are there to get us through that.”
Now in the final quarter, UCI still trailed 5-7. Senior Lovre Milos opened up the period offensively, scoring with 5:24 to play and bringing the ‘Eaters within a point. Duffy, netted a goal to tie the game 7-7 and soon after the ‘Eaters had their first lead of the game with 2:35 left to play.
With 1:14 left, a shot got past senior goalkeeper Matej Matijevic, who otherwise had an outstanding final quarter of play. The eventual game winner came courtesy of Senior Ryan Warde, with 0:33 left, Warde snuck one through to the excitement of the crowd. The ‘Eaters were able to hold on to the lead and now move to the final round of their conference tournament.
They will face the No. 1 seed Pacific tonight for the conference championship.