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Wednesday, January 16 , 2019, 7:04 am | Fair 48º

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Water Polo

Santa Barbara Shuts Down Dos Pueblos Attack for 10-7 Win

Connor O'Keefe keys solid defensive effort; Dons move closer to Channel League title

Sawyer Rhodes of Santa Barbara High rises high out of the water for a shot against Dos Pueblos. Rhodes scored 4 goals. Click to view larger
Sawyer Rhodes of Santa Barbara High rises high out of the water for a shot against Dos Pueblos. Rhodes scored 4 goals. (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara High’s Connor O’Keefe had the unenviable task of marking powerful Taylor Gustason of Dos Pueblos in Tuesday’s boys water polo rivalry game at the Elings Aquatic Center.

O’Keefe, with a little help from his friends, held his own in the 2-meter position against the more physical Gustason, highlighting a stellar defensive effort by the Dons in a 10-7 victory.

Sawyer Rhodes paced the offense with four goals, and Santa Barbara improved to 5-0 in the Channel League and 16-7 overall. The Dons can clinch a tie for the league title with a win against Ventura on Thursday at home.

“Thursday is our league championship game,” Santa Barbara coach Mark Walsh said. “We’re really, really excited. Everything after that is the icing or whatever.”

Dos Pueblos falls to 2-3 in league, 9-10 overall.

O’Keefe did everything he could to deny Gustason the ball in the low post.

“It’s really hard to guard when the guy is six inches taller than you and has got 50 pounds on you,” O’Keefe said. “But we did a lot of drop defense; Evan Blix and Jack Rottman helped by dropping and helping me when I couldn’t get good position on him. We really played a team game.”

Gustason, who didn’t play in the first meeting against Santa Barbara because of an injury, managed two goals in the rematch, including one on a wicked backhanded shot in the first period. His second came with 2:29 left in the fourth period, cutting Santa Barbara’s lead to 9-7.

“Unfortunately, somebody has to draw the short straw and has to guard him,” Santa Barbara coach Mark Walsh said of O’Keefe’s tough assignment. “He’s a big, strong guy and very good, crafty and super strong. We unfortunately don’t have a ton of guys built like that. (O’Keefe) drew that assignment but he definitely needed help today. We tried to bring a lot of perimeter guys in to help him. Doing that one on one is basically impossible and physically exhausting because (Gustason) is so strong. He did a heck of a job.”

O’Keefe said the Dons’ game plan was to contain Gustason and keep Dylan Elliott and Ethan Parrish from taking high percentage shots.

“We tried to concentrate on their better shooters,” Walsh explained. “The last time we played them Dylan and Ethan had better games. We tried to put a little more pressure on those guys and kind of make the other guys shoot a little more.”

Elliott led Dos Pueblos with four goals while Parrish was held scoreless.

“They’re really, really, really good,” Dos Pueblos coach Connor Levoff said of the Dons. “For us to play frankly really well and lose a 7-10 game, we’re not going to ever take a defeat as a positive thing but I thought we did a good job of hanging in. There were a couple of times we could have folded. We got some really big shifts out of some role players. Taylor Locke came in and had a huge goal and Madison Montag was really big getting up and down and making some intangible plays, hustle plays that made a difference.”

After Elliott scored to tie the game at 4-4, Santa Barbara came back with a pair of goals by Jack Rottman and Jacob Castillo. Castillo’s goal came on a power play with six seconds to go in the second quarter.

Adam Gross scored the first goal of the third period to put the Dons ahead 7-4. Gross played an all-around game, scoring two goals, making five steals and dishing four assists.

Elliott fired a side-armed shot that went off the post, and the Chargers got a bad break when a goal was nullified because a foul was whistled before the shot. On the ensuing power play, DP shot the ball over the goal.

“I thought we did a good job on our 5-on-6 defense,” said Walsh.

Jacob Castillo (3) of Santa Barbara skips a shot past Dos Pueblos goalie Ben Cable. Click to view larger
Jacob Castillo (3) of Santa Barbara skips a shot past Dos Pueblos goalie Ben Cable. (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

“I think they did a pretty good job adjusting from the last time,” Levoff said of the Dons’ defense on Elliott and Parrish. “Ethan went off against them the first time we played them. They bottled him pretty well. He was playing a slightly more defensive role for us. He was matched one on one with their strongest attacker (Rhodes), which I thought he came out ahead in a lot of the game, which is a good sign for us. As much as his offense was limited, he definitely was super impactful at the other end.”

Santa Barbara had two steals and goalie Will McManigal saved a shot on DP’s next three possessions after taking the 7-4 lead. McManigal had six saves and two steals in the game

The Dons converted one of those steals into a counter-attack, with Rhodes rifling a goal off a long pass from McManigal for an 8-4 lead with 36 seconds left in the third period.

Elliott ended DP’s scoring drought with 12 seconds to go in the period.

The Dons went back up by four goals after Rottman drew a penalty shot. Rhodes converted the free shot for a 9-5 lead.

McManigal then denied the Chargers on an outside shot and a tip by Gustason.

Taylor Locke kept DP alive with a goal at the 4:07 mark and Gustason followed at 2:29 on a shot that barely beat the shot-clock horn.

A DP foul gave Santa Barbara a power play and Rottman capitalized on the man advantage for a 10-7 lead with 1:22 to go. A steal by Gross sealed the win for the Dons.

“It’s obviously frustrating and disappointing to not come out with a win, but we were within striking distance the whole time, which is where we want to be in every game,” said Levoff. “I think we’re closing the gap but obviously not quickly enough.”

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