Down by one goal in the final moments of the second three-minute overtime period, Santa Barbara High’s girls water polo team drew a Mira Costa ejection to go on the power play.
The Dons got a shot off, but Mira Costa goalie Erin O’Donnell blocked it, and the Mustangs ran out the clock to take a 6-5 decision in a CIF-SS Division 2 quarterfinal game on Saturday at the Elings Aquatic Center at Dos Pueblos High.
Leigh Lyter of the Mustangs scored the game winner with 45 seconds left in the first three-minute extra period. She beat her defender on a drive and shot past Santa Barbara goalie Faith Tedesco from point-blank range.
Mira Costa will play Harvard Westlake in the semifinals on Wednesday in Irvine. Harvard Westlake upset No. 1 Oaks Christian, 9-8.
The Santa Barbara-Mira Costa battle was close throughout. Santa Barbara had the biggest lead of 2-0 on a pair of first-period goals by Juju Martinez do Amaral.
“We knew it would a tight game,” Santa Barbara coach Mark Walsh said. “We knew we were basically even teams and it was going to be one-goal game, and it was just a matter who’s going to make that shot or that play, or whatever it was.
“We were just one goal short today.”
Mira Costa did a good job defensively against Santa Barbara’s two main offensive weapons, do Amaral and Abigail Hendrix. They drew two and sometimes three defenders almost every time they touched the ball.
“We were able to hit (do Amaral) twice in the first quarter on the 6 on 5, so we knew they’d be taking that away,” Walsh said of the Mustangs’ defense. “We adjusted to figure out a way to get other girls some wide-open shots. In order to be a good team, you’ve got to have other people step in and make shots when they’re left open. You know what they say: You’re only as strong as your weakest link and, if your weakest link can make shots, then you know your team is probably going to be very strong.
“But we did the same thing to them.”
The Dons had chances on power plays, but Mira Costa defenders did a good job at deflecting shots and O’Donnell cleaned up in the cage.
“It started out great and then we just did some little things wrong, and we showed our youth out there,” said Walsh of the Dons’ struggles on the power play.
“It’s hard. You want to rely on Abigail and Juju, the ones with a lot of experience, but they’re being double teamed and the other girls are left open. Now that girl’s got the ball and now she has to make a decision, and it’s in the hands of a freshman, or sophomore or junior who doesn’t have a ton of experience.
“You kind of have to weigh: Do you want just your best girl to shoot when she’s being double teamed or do you want to play as a team and make the correct water polo play? But then you get into some maybe poor decisions that the younger girls might make.
“That was a lot of our offense I felt in overtime.”
Do Amaral led the Dons with three goals and Hendrix had two
Dylan Read and Celeste Allemendariz each scored two goals for Mira Costa.
Read gave the Mustangs a 5-4 lead at 2:14 of the first overtime on a restart just after Santa Barbara returned to full strength following an ejection.
Hendrix answered for the Dons, beating O’Donnell from long range to knot the score at 5-5 with 1:58 to go.
Lyter then scored the game winner on a counter attack.
Mira Costa put heavy pressure on Hendrix, making sure the USC-bound standout wouldn’t get a shot at tying the score again.
The loss ended a Hendrix family era in the Santa Barbara water polo program. Abigail was the fifth member of her family to play for the Dons, following sisters Betsy, Kelsie and Charlotte and brother Henry.
“I don’t think I can put it into words,” she said of ending her four-year varsity career. “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. My family has a really long line in Dons water polo. It’s gone for awhile, it’s ended, so that’s really sad.”
Hendrix this season was about having fun and playing as a team.
“Win or lose, just being together and I think this game really showed that,” she said, “We were together the entire time, in good spirits — no one was yelling at each other. We were still laughing and smiling.”