The fourth-ranked UC Santa Barbara men’s water polo team has had several nail-biting finishes as of late, and Sunday’s afternoon nonconference game with No. 8 Cal was no different.
Sophomore driver Nathan Puentes scored six goals to help the Gauchos pull out a 13-10 victory in overtime at Campus Pool.
The Gauchos (17-5, 1-1 Golden Coast) have now defeated Cal twice this season, doing so for the first time since 1981.
The two teams opened the first quarter to the tune of a 2-2 scoreline, but sophomore attacker Sam Nangle’s buzzer-beater at the end of the opening eight minutes put the Gauchos ahead by one.
Senior utility Ivan Gvozdanovic provided the opener in the second period and Puentes added even-strength and penalty-shot goals to extend UCSB’s lead at the half to 6-4.
The Golden Bears would fight back in the third quarter, outscoring the hosts 3-2, with goals from three different players to narrow the deficit back down to one goal.
In the fourth quarter, the Gauchos went down for the first time in the game as a pair of power-play goals put Cal up 9-8.
As the clock was ticking towards another narrow defeat, redshirt sophomore attacker Leo Yuno put away a chance with just under two minutes left to get the Gauchos back on level terms.
Despite some nervy moments in the final minute, neither team was able to break through in the final moments and the match headed to overtime.
In the first extra period, the Gauchos earned a penalty shot 53 seconds after the opening whistle. UCSB head coach Wolf Wigo called timeout after the the penalty and put the ball in Puentes’ hands.
With Cal goalkeeper Adrian Weinberg’s confidence sky-high after blocking an earlier penalty shot, Puentes coolly aimed low and converted on his attempt to put Santa Barbara up once again.
“Going into it, the [Cal] guys next to me were trying to get into my head, so I went underwater and focused [before taking the shot]. I knew where I was going the whole time and I was just trying to avoid getting distracted from the opposition,” said Puentes
Puentes added another goal in the first overtime and scored again with 32 seconds left in the second half of overtime as the Gauchos were able to keep Cal off the scoresheet until the 21-second mark.
Cole Brosnan punctuated the match with a goal with five seconds left in the second extra period to close out the match 13-10.
Puentes’ six goals in the match were the most by a Gaucho in a single game this season.
“Yeah, he really caught fire at the end there,” said Wigo. “He was playing a good game. He got hurt in the middle of the game and had to sit out for a little bit, so it showed a lot of determination to hit those shots,” said Wigo.
UCSB’s win over Cal on Sept. 8 in the semifinal of the Triton Invitational at UC San Diego was the team’s first win over the Golden Bears since 2004, and now the Gauchos have defeated them twice in a season for the first time in 38 years.
“We hadn’t beaten them since 2004 and now we’ve beaten them twice in a season. It’s a huge statement win and it puts us in a great position for an at-large (NCAA Tournament) bid,” said Wigo.
“(Cal is) a very good team that can get wins off anyone, and this shows that we’re back and ready to fight for a national championship,” said Puentes.
Santa Barbara takes a week off of match play before welcoming Golden Coast Conference opponent UC Irvine to Campus Pool for its home finale on Saturday, Nov. 2.