IRVINE — Trailing by one heading into the fourth quarter of a championship game is not a situation that every player could thrive under.
The Santa Barbara High boys water polo team, especially the team’s seniors, are the exception. Those players could handle, and even excel, under that pressure.
They proved it again Saturday on the biggest stage of the season.
The Dons completely outplayed Schurr High School in the fourth frame, both offensively and defensively, outscoring the Spartans 3-0 to defeat them by a final score of 9-7 in the CIF-SS Division 3 title game. This is Santa Barbara’s first CIF win since 2006.
“It’s unbelievable. I can’t even put this into words,” senior Dylan Fogg said.
“I’m just really happy right now and so proud of my team and my coach and I’m so proud of the way we played this season. I can’t describe anything right now honestly, I am just in shock.”
For Mark Walsh, this is his sixth ring as coach of the Santa Barbara boys water polo team, and it was a long wait for him as well.
“It’s actually been so long I forgot how good it felt, and man it felt so good when it was over. I was like ‘oh my god we really won this,’” Walsh said.
“I’ve been okay with the losses because I’ve won so many, so it’s kind of callous to that, but I just haven’t had that feeling in a long time and it was amazing.”
“I was just hoping to be a semifinalist based on what we had, and as the season went on I got less confident in that … but we were able to fix it just in time, and I kept buying in on these guys.”
For a moment, it looked like the Dons would have nothing to celebrate postgame.
Schurr had all the momentum heading into the fourth, outscoring Santa Barbara 6-4 since the first quarter.
“We just got together and said ‘come on boys, we could do this, we have played against teams like this before,’” said senior Chase Raisin referring to what the team said before the start of the fourth quarter.
“We just got composed and knew offense would come with good defense.”
In the fourth quarter, the seniors specifically really stepped up, especially since they were the ones most prepared for this situation.
“Our team is very composed, we knew we had been here before. We’re seniors. The worst thing that happens is we lose a water polo game so we just go out there and put it in our mind that we are going to win. It is just more important to us,” Raisin said.
Senior Dylan Fogg was the first player to step up. With a power-play opportunity, Fogg took full advantage scoring a goal from the top of the pool to tie the match at 7-7.
From there, it became a defensive slugfest. Santa Barbara blocked nwearly every shot that a Schurr player got off.
If it wasn’t sophomore Wyatt Pieretti making a play, who was again outstanding on Saturday, then it was a field player not letting their man go through them.
That paid off as with 2:25 remaining as Raisin, with the shot clock expiring, tried a spin lob shot
— something he tries a lot in practice but not really in games.
Regardless, it worked. It found the back of the net at the far post and gave the Dons their first lead since the first quarter when they were up 2-1.
“I’ve been practicing it more recently and I was at the two position and I saw the goalie was just sitting by the near post and I was like ‘I am just going to let this rip,’” Raisin said.
“It just happened to be a nice shot to go in and it put us up right there. I was super stoked, and after that we caught momentum and we kept building.
“We always mess around in practice, we call them spin lobs. He hits one every 10 maybe ,and I have never seen him hit one in the game before like that, and for it to happen in that game is just great honestly,” Fogg said.
Santa Barbara then went back to defense, blocking the next two shots on the next two Spartans’ possessions.
With 1:30 left, the Dons got the ball back and with under a minute left Jordan Hayes drew a huge ejection setting his team up with a power play.
With 42 seconds left, Fogg hit his signature deep shot and the Santa Barbara side erupted knowing they were in the perfect position to win.
Fogg was scoreless in the first half but helped the team in other ways. In the third quarter, he found his shot and in the fourth, he completely relied on it to help guide the Dons to a ring.
“We are all just capable of different things at different times. Everyone knows me as a shooter, but in the first half, I could not hit a shot so I just focused on my passing and I let my boys do their work. And in the end, in the fourth, I got a couple of goals and I am super proud and super happy,” Fogg said.
Giving the seniors the limelight in the fourth, however, was only possible due to the solid work of many underclassmen in the first half especially.
In the first quarter, it was sophomore Bronson Blix who scored the first goal of the game to put Santa Barbara on top 1-0. He assisted on the next goal to Hayes to help the Dons lead 2-0. He also had a pair of key steals to thwart the Spartans and assisted on a healthy amount of goals in the first half.
Late in the second quarter, after a 3-0 run by Schurr, Blix stopped the run with his second goal of the match to bring the Dons within one at 4-3.
For the game, Blix finished with two goals, five assists, three steals and two field blocks.
“It feels really good. In the last game of the season to leave it all out there and getting the win was great. We watched some film so I knew I’d be able to slide up from five and be able to hit a shot if they left me open,” Blix said.
After another Spartan score, senior Adam Coffin nailed his shot to send the Dons into the break down one at 5-4.
In the third, Santa Barbara tied it up with a score from Raisin, who finished with two goals, one assist, one steal and three drawn ejections in his final game.
After Schurr took the lead, Fogg finally found the back of the net, tying it at 6-6 before the Spartans scored again to take a 7-6 lead with 3:32 remaining in the third, the last time they would find the back of the net.
That was due in large part to Pieretti who had nine saves and two steals in the title match.
“As a sophomore, man he’s going to do big things when he’s senior. I’m very proud of him, I did not think he’d be where he is right now. Without his saves, I mean, I was just amazed, that was awesome,” Raisin said.
Raisin, one of the team’s most outspoken leaders, was really the first to speak this ring into existence. After the team’s win over Rio Mesa, Raisin said that a CIF ring was the only thing on his and his teams’ minds.
The moment was even sweeter then he could have imagined.
“I am just so stoked right now. (I can imagine) graduation day, ring in finger, picture, oh my god I just can’t wait. All the seniors are stoked for that,” Raisin said.