In a big-game atmosphere, Santa Barbara High rose to the occasion and swamped crosstown rival San Marcos, 14-9, in the Channel League boys water polo opener before a full-house at the Santa Barbara pool on Tuesday evening.
It was a spirited scene more commonly found at crosstown basketball or volleyball games. The bleachers were full, leaving fans to sit or stand on the pool deck; cheerleaders and students from both schools were there to offer vocal support for their teams.
The Santa Barbara fans were doing most of the cheering after the first period. The CIF-Southern Section Division 1 10th-ranked Dons used good ball movement to get everyone involved in the attack and played tough defense to hold San Marcos to two goals in the second and third periods, shutting out the Royals in the second.
Sawyer Rhodes led a balanced Santa Barbara offense with four goals, while Jack Rottman and Evan Blix each had three goals, Chris Gaffney tossed in two and Adam Gross and Jacob Castillo scored one a piece.
“Our offense was sharing the ball,” said an excited Rottman. “Sawyer usually drops seven goals and he had four tonight. Obviously a great game by him, but it shows how a great teammate he is and how we work as a team and how we share the ball.”
Rhodes said he was pumped up about the game all day.
“That was one of the most fun games I’ve been a part of,” he said. “ We shared the ball really well. Normally our stat line is three guys have all our goals. I think six guys scored. The ball was spread around, so their defense was falling apart because of it.”
Castillo fed Rhodes for a score with one second left in the first period to give Santa Barbara the lead for good at 4-3.
In the second period, Gaffney scored from long range and Blix followed off an assist from Rhodes for a 6-3 advantage.
San Marcos (7-3, 0-1) had its opportunities but came up empty in the period. The Royals had three shots hit the woodwork and another saved by Dons goalie Will McManigal.
“Will played great in that quarter, our defense was in tune and everybody was talking,” Santa Barbara coach Mark Walsh said. “Evan Blix and Jacob Castillo were guarding two guys,”
“They hit a couple of shots we were willing to give up and I think that set us into panic mode,” San Marcos coach Jeff Ashton said. “That’s the same thing we didn’t do. There were definitely shots in the pool they were willing to give us and we didn’t hit those shots and they did. We missed a lot of shots. They did a great job defensively and they made us shoot poorly. “
Blix used his speed to beat a defender on a drive to the left post and Connor O’Keefe found him for a goal to give the Dons a 7-3 lead at halftime.
Rottman praised the work of O’Keefe. “Connor O’Keefe did a great job running set. He was telling us what to do and where to go.”
Rhodes and Rottman took over in the third period to expand the Santa Barbara lead to 10-3. Rottman received a pass from Gross on the inside and scored, and Rhodes followed with his second goal, taking a feed from Gaffney and rising high out of the water to beat the goalie. Rhodes then showed his strength, drawing an ejection and then powering over another defender to make it 10-3 at the 3:20 mark.
“We got lots of contributions today, so it made us hard to stop on offense,” said Walsh.
He lauded Gaffney, who regained confidence in his shooting. “We’ve been trying to get it out of him,” said Walsh.
He added: “I’m really proud of Adam and Sawyer looking to those guys and not forcing a lot themselves and trying to get the ball to Evan and to Chris on the other side of the pool. They showed a lot of faith in them.”
UCSB-bound Spencer Wood finally ended the San Marcos scoring drought at 2:53 of the third period.
After Blix delivered his third goal for the Dons, Jesse Morrison scored on a power play to make it 11-5. Rottman then delivered the crushing blow to San Marcos, rifling a shot from mid-pool at the buzzer for 12-5 lead.
Wood scored three of his team-high four goals in the fourth period for the Royals (7-3). Morrison, also a UCSB commit, had three goals and Princeton-bound Miles Cole added two.
San Marcos (7-3, 0-1) is back in action Wednesday at powerhouse Harvard Westlake. Santa Barbara (8-4, 1-0) plays Dos Pueblos at home on Thursday at 3:15 p.m.