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Water Polo

San Marcos Pulls Out 10-9 Victory Over Santa Barbara

Royals put forth solid team effort to deny Dons from perfect league season

Adam Fuller of San Marcos finds an opening between Santa Barbara defenders Evan Blix (2) and Jack Rottman Click to view larger
Adam Fuller of San Marcos finds an opening between Santa Barbara defenders Evan Blix (2) and Jack Rottman (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

The San Marcos seniors got the job done on Tuesday in an important Channel League water polo game against crosstown rival Santa Barbara High.

Miles Cole and Jesse Morrison each scored three goals and Spencer Wood added two and made some huge defensive plays in the fourth quarter, sparking the Royals to a tense 10-9 victory over the league-champion Dons before a big crowd at the San Marcos pool.

The result puts the Royals firmly in second place at 4-2 while Santa Barbara stands at 6-1.

San Marcos’ balanced attack offset another brilliant performance by Santa Barbara’s Sawyer Rhodes. The Stanford commit followed his back-to-back 10-goal performances last week with eight goals in a losing cause.

Rhodes, however, couldn’t deliver a game-tying goal, and the rest of the Dons also came up empty in the fourth period.  A great defensive play by Wood and solid goalkeeping from Ben Spievak made a difference.

Early in the final period, Spievak left the cage to defend a wide-open Jack Rottman. Seeing the unguarded cage, Rottman lobbed the ball over Spievak. But Wood alertly raced over from the left side and made the save.

“I was guarding my guy and I saw Spievak swim hard to the ball and the whole cage was open,” the UCSB-bound Wood said. “I ran to the goal hoping it wasn’t a really hard shot. (Rottman) kind of floated it and at the last second I grabbed it. I tried to play heads-up defense. It’s a risky play.”

It was that kind of team play that made the difference for the Royals in their second meeting against the Dons.

“I thought the last game (a 14-9 Santa Barbara win) they did such a good job playing as a team and we sort of thought of them as being so dominate with Sawyer,” San Marcos coach Jeff Ashton. “Sawyer is such a good player, but we really focused this time on playing them as a team.”

Sawyer Rhodes of Santa Barbara shoots against the defense of Spencer Wood of San Marcos. Rhodes scored 9 goals. Click to view larger
Sawyer Rhodes of Santa Barbara shoots against the defense of Spencer Wood of San Marcos. Rhodes scored 9 goals. (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

Wood concurred. “The team chemistry was very, very good today. It was there with all the seniors and even all the younger guys too. Trevor Ricci and Koss (Klobucher) played great games.”

Ashton lauded Klobucher’s contributions.

“I thought Koss Klobucher played the best game he’s ever played,” said the coach. “He only scored one goal but there were lots of instances where he was covering up on defense. He’s doing a very non-glamorous role on offense but he was doing it well. He was doing everything he was supposed to do. None of the other guys get their goals if he’s not doing what he’s supposed to be doing.”

The game was close from the start. The score was tied 3-3 after the first quarter and the Dons went ahead 6-5 at halftime. Rhodes had five of the six goals. Rottman scored the other goal to give Santa Barbara a 6-4 lead. But Morrison answered for the Royals to make it a one-goal difference.

In the third period, Morrison tied the score off a Wood assist and the Royals took a 7-6 lead when Ricci took a pass from Morrison and beat the shot clock.

San Marcos denied Rhodes and the Dons a couple of times on a field block by Wood and a block by Spievak. But the Santa Barbara goal-scorer wouldn’t be denied a third time as he finished a shot inside the near post to tie the score at 7-7.

Cole made a nifty feed to Wood and he put his shot away for an 8-7 San Marcos lead.

Ashton pulled Cole out of the center position and that freed him up to get good looks at the goal.

“They did a lot of things different than the last time we played them,” Santa Barbara coach Mark Walsh said. “They have a lot of offensive weapons, so it’s hard to keep track of them all.  Last time we did a lot better job of controlling them and this time they were a lot more active on the perimeter. They made it hard for us for sure.”

The Princeton-bound Cole got free in the center and scored to give the Royals their biggest lead of the game, 9-7 with 2:45 left in the third period.

Miles Cole of San Marcos unleashed a backhand shot while being tightly guarded by Connor O’Keefe of Santa Barbara. Click to view larger
Miles Cole of San Marcos unleashed a backhand shot while being tightly guarded by Connor O’Keefe of Santa Barbara. (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

After going goal-less in his last two trips down the pool, Rhodes found the back of the net again, rising high out of the water and rifling a left-handed laser past the goalie. He came right back with a quick-release shot to tie the score at 9-9.

Wood answered for the Royals for a 10-9 advantage after three quarters.

Both teams created chances in the final period, but the defenses rose to the occasion. Dons goalie Will McManigal made a huge defensive play against Cole; Adam Fuller of the Royals rejected a shot; Wood had a steal and McManigal came up with steal to thwart a San Marcos scoring chance with 22 seconds left.

“We tried to focus on defense first and worry less about an offensive plan,” Ashton said. “Nine goals may seem like a lot in a lot of water polo games, but in this pool that’s pretty good defense against a team that can score like they can.”

On Santa Barbara’s last attempt to tie, a lob pass for Rhodes was tipped and during the scramble for the ball Rhodes was whistled for a violation.

“I thought it was a complete team effort,” said Ashton. “I thought the guys did what I asked them to do. It’s not just a game-planning thing. No matter what the game plan is you got to execute, you have to do whatever you have to do and you got to do it really well. I thought did a great job of that.”

He noted the win puts San Marcos in a better position to claim second place.  “Coming into the last three games against Santa Barbara, Dos Pueblos and Ventura, we had to win two. We’re one win away (from clinching) with two games left.”

Walsh said the game reminded him of a football-like scenario.

“I told the guys I kind felt like the NFL, when a team is 3-5 and the other team is 5-3.  The team that needs the game more, they always seem to win. I felt like (San Marcos) needed this game more than we did, obviously, because they’re still trying to make the playoffs. They played like it.

“I thought we played hard,” he continued. “I don’t think we played with the type of urgency and emergency like we did the first time against them, or maybe how they played against us. I thought they did a really nice job.”

Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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