IRVINE — Five goals from senior Dylan Fogg, a fantastic defensive effort from senior Chase Raisin and another gritty performance from the entire Santa Barbara High boys water polo team guided the Dons to a 10-9 victory over Northwood in the CIF-SS Division 3 semifinals — sending them to their first championship appearance since 2012.
“It feels amazing, I can’t put it into words,” Fogg said.
“I came to the semis last year with Chase (Raisin) and another one of our close buddies who graduated and we lost in the semis. To come back here and win and have a shot at a ring feels great.”
The Dons were up six goals heading into the final frame, but the Timberwolves scored five unanswered goals, three within the frames first two minutes, but two key defensive stops in the games final minute and 14 seconds thwarted Northwood’s comeback attempt and sent Santa Barbara to Saturday’s championship match.
With the win, the Dons (26-6) will move on to face Schurr for the title on Saturday at the Woollett Center at a time yet to be determined. Schurr defeated Beckwood 7-4 in the other semifinal match.
“Man, I can’t put into words. I’m so stoked to be here right now. I’ve been looking for this ever since I was in high school. We’ve been working so hard this year as a team and I’m very proud,” Raisin said.
Raisin, who is usually one of the team’s leading goal scorers, decided to take care of things on the defensive side in this matchup and he did just that for the most part.
He neutralized the Timberwolves best player for the most part and made four steals, inclduing a key one in the final minute of the fourth, to help his team get the win.
“I’ve been playing high school water polo for four years now. I’ve had my goals, I’ve had my shots, I’ve taken those shots, now it’s all about winning for me. I don’t care if anybody scores, I want to win. I take the roles that need to be filled like defense, which was big this game,” Raisin said.
In general, seniors continued to be the driving force of this Dons team as nine of the teams’ ten goals came from fourth-year players.
Still, the younger players certainly showed up and did their part as Bronson Blix had two assists, Wyatt Pieretti had eight saves and other guys drew ejections and played sound defense.
“The younger guys definitely played good. I know we have a deep bench, but our younger guys stepped in and did a great job,” Fogg said.
For Mark Walsh, this will be his ninth appearance in the championship game as the Dons head coach. He is 5-3 in his previous eight championship matches with his last win coming in 2006. The Dons lost to Agoura High 7-4 back in 2012.
“I think I have won five (championships), but not in a long time so we are happy to be back,” Walsh said.
The Dons were in complete control of the game early as they scored in four of their first seven possessions.
Fogg completed a hat trick just four minutes into the contest, scoring one from deep, one on a power play and one from in close after collecting a rebound to give Santa Barbara a 3-1 lead. In addition to his five goals on Wednesday, Fogg added an assist and a steal.
“I just wanted to shoot the right shots. I saw the goalie in warm-ups and he didn’t look too good and I kind of just picked the right shots and I played my part in our offense,” Fogg said.
Two scores from senior Adam Coffin put Santa Barbara in front 5-1. Northwood allowed just five goals total against Westlake in the quarterfinals.
The first quarter looked like it would end in a 5-1 lead in favor of the Dons, but Northwood’s Issaac Bello, from about mid pool, shot the ball into the back of the net to put his team back within three.
That goal sparked the Timberwolves as they came out hungry in the second quarter. A bad pass from Pieretti led to an easy goal in transition for Northwood, then a cross cage score from another Northwood player made the score 5-4.
With just over two minutes left, Pieretti more than made up for his earlier mistake, blocking a shot from very close in and then controlling the possession which led to a goal by Fogg on the other end sending Santa Barbara with a 6-4 halftime lead.
“It just comes down to the fact that if that goal goes in we could lose the game, so I have to make that save, we have to make that stop in order to win this game,” Pieretti said.
Out of the break, Santa Barbara again took control of the match. The Dons outscored the Timberwolves to hold a very impressive 10-4 lead when the third quarter finished.
Pieretti totaled three of his eight saves in the frame and Raisin scored his only goal of the contest in the third. The ten goals were also the most Northwood had given up this entire postseason.
With the way the third quarter ended, it looked like though Santa Barbara would get to cruise into Saturday. The Timberwolves made sure to not let that be the case.
Northwood opened up the fourth with a score from Bello, then Northwood’s Max Abravanel, seemingly the team’s best player, finally got going with a pair of goals in the team’s next three possessions to make the score 10-8 with 4:17 remaining prompting a Santa Barbara timeout.
Out of the timeout, the Dons played better defense coming up with a steal in the next possession and a save from Pieretti, but the team could not score.
With 1:56 remaining, Abravanel got the ball, turned toward the net and floated a shot past Pieretti to bring Northwood within one.
Santa Barbara again failed to score on the next possession, even with a power-play opportunity, which allowed Northwood to have a look at a tie with 1:30 left.
Raisin then forced a steal to give Santa Barbara another chance at a dagger, but again it came up empty giving the Timberwolves another chance with 41 seconds left.
Santa Barbara would earn a team block, then force Northwood into a bad pass which resulted in a turnover with six seconds left and gave the Dons a win.
“It’s what it has been like all season for us. We have been in a lot of tight games against good teams and we need to lock in on defense and do all the little things and work for each other to pull these out,” Walsh said.
Now, Santa Barbara will try to pull one more out on Saturday and earn its sixth CIF title in program history.
“Schurr is going to give us a tough game an extremely tough game but we are just happy to be one of the last two teams that get to play one last hour with a chance to get a ring,” Walsh said.
“Every guy is a weapon (on that team) and they are well-coached and it’s going to take a full team effort to get that win.”