The Santa Barbara High girls water polo team was picking up some real steam toward the end of the season and in its first playoff game in the CIF-SS Div. 2 bracket.
Unfortunately for the Dons, they could not keep that pace in their second-round match when they hosted Mira Costa, dropping the contest 6-5 in overtime Saturday at Elings Aquatic Center, bringing their season to its conclusion.
“We knew it’d be a tight game,” Santa Barbara coach Mark Walsh said.
“We were basically even teams and we knew it was going to be a one-goal game and it was going to come down to the player who could make that shot and we were one goal short today.”
In its last five matches, including its 12-11 win over Corona Santiago in the first round, Santa Barbara had been averaging just over eight goals a game, well above it’s average earlier in the season when the team was decimated with injuries.
In fact, the Dons had defeated Mira Costa just two weekends ago, 9-6, to close out the SoCal Championships tournament in Irvine.
“It was probably the best we played all year. A lot of things went our way and we were perfect on 6-on-5s and we got some really deep shots to go in so we knew that it wasn’t really a three-goal game. We knew it’d be a one-score ball game, we’re equal teams. If we played each other 10 times we would each win five,” Walsh said.
Well, the Dons played the Mustangs three times this season, losing twice including Saturday when they just could not get their offense in rhythm.
Santa Barbara started off well early in the contest, as Juju Martinez do amaral scored the first two goals of the game.
The first was thanks to an ejection drawn by Elise Power inside, allowing senior captain Abigail Hendrix to find her open teammate and set her up for the score.
On the second goal, it was again Power drawing the ejection and Hendrix passing it across the pool to Martinez do amaral who finished it off with a score.
“We knew they’d be taking that away (after the 6-on-5s), so we adjusted and figured out ways to get some other girls some wide-open shots and in order to be a good team you have to have other people step in and make shots when they’re left open,” Walsh said.
Mira Costa responded with a goal of its own with five seconds left in the first quarter to cut the deficit in half.
From the first period onwards, the Dons offense could not find the same rhythm it once had, even in 6-on-5 situations.
Senior goalkeeper Faith Tedesco, who will be playing at UC Irvine next fall, kept Santa Barbara ahead for as long as she could, registering eight of her 11 saves in the first two frames. Two of her saves also came in 6-on-5 situations.
The Mustangs tied the game at 2-all, however, with just a bit over two minutes remaining thanks to a goal from Dylan Read. The senior had two goals for Mira Costa on Saturday.
The third frame was relatively slow until Hendrix drew an ejection, then fired in a shot to put the Dons back in front.
Mira Costa responded with two goals of its own before the end of the third quarter, both by senior Celeste Almendariz to take its first lead of the game into the fourth period.
The fourth was again quiet, but Martinez do amaral came through big for her team, making a floating shot with just over two minutes left to tie the contest at 4-4.
In the first OT period, Santa Barbara and Mira Costa traded a pair of goals. With under a minute left, however, the Mustangs the game-winning score from Leight Lyter, who got around Martinez do amaral, and was able to finish for an easy score.
Santa Barbara had its chances in the second OT and had a power-play opportunity with 39 seconds left to tie it but could not convert, as Power received a pass just a second too late and was unable to get a clean look.
The Mustangs ran down the rest of the clock to win the game and advance to the semifinals.
“I am really proud of the girls. They’re a great group, really coachable. I don’t think I’ve had a team that was more coachable than this group, at least not in a long time that I can remember. There were just no issues, they were a special group,” Walsh said.
Hendrix, a senior captain who will be headed off to USC to continue her playing career, was also sad to see her season come to an end Saturday.
“I’ve grown so much as a player and a person and gained so many friends, as I’ve gone through these four years. I’ve been through thick and thin with all these girls and many others. I’m just so sad it’s over,” Hendrix said.
“My family has a really long line in Dons water polo and it’s gone for a while, it’s ended, so that’s really sad.”
Hendrix is the last in a family of five to play water polo at Santa Barbara. Her three sisters and one brother also played under Walsh.
While sad to see her high school career end, Hendrix did mention that she was happy her team was able to have a lot of fun this season.
“We’ve really tried to just have fun and play as a team, win or lose, and just be together and I think this game showed that. We were in positive spirits,” Hendrix said.
“I kept telling them throughout the game, I don’t want to stop playing, let me play more so let’s win this game and, unfortunately, that didn’t happen, but we had a good run.”