Santa Barbara High was in dogfight with an inspired Huntington Beach-Edison during the first half of Thursday’s CIF-SS Division 3 boys water polo second-round playoff game.
The visiting Chargers, boosted by a vocal group of supporters, took a 6-5 halftime lead against the Channel League champions.
But Santa Barbara’s defense took charge in the second half, shutting out Edison, and five different players scored for the Dons, giving them a 10-6 victory and a spot in the quarterfinals on Saturday at Los Osos in Rancho Cucamonga. Los Osos beat Corona-Santiago, 18-6
The Dons (24-6) lost to Osos in last year’s semifinals.
Jordan Hayes scored the game-tying goal from the set position and Bronson Blix fired a long-range shot past Edison’s outstanding goalie Caden Martin for a lead Santa Barbara would never relinquish.
“We really weren’t sure how good they were and we were just trying to plan our game,” Blix said of the first half. “Then we were giving them some fouls and they were hitting some shots. We adjusted and stopped fouling them and started playing more as a team, and held them to zero points in the second half.”
Blix and Adam Kubinyi played big roles on the defensive end, coming up with eight steals between them. Kubinyi led the team with five and Blix had three.
Blix made a huge steal while helping on defense against Edison’s powerful center Ethan Galaz, and the Dons turned into a goal in the fourth period. Adam Coffin made a nice fake and beat Martin with a lob for a 9-6 lead with 3:24 left.
“(Walsh) was telling us before the game that they had a pretty good set, so we made sure that we knew where he was at all times,” Blix said. ” I was just able to take the ball when I came in.”
Blix said team communication on defense was the difference in the second half.
“We weren’t talking very much in the first half and we were kind of lazy,” he said. “In the second half, we just stepped it up and started making shots.”
On his goal to give the Dons the lead, Blix said: “Yay, it feels good. They left me open and I sort of walked in and shot it and it went in. That was good.”
Senior Chase Raisin put an exclamation point on the Dons’ — and his — final game at home with a spectacular goal. He got the ball in front of the cage, broke away from two defenders and buried the shot. The excited Raisin pounded the water with both arms to celebrate as the Santa Barbara fans roared.
“That was amazing,” said Blix. “I got goosebumps when he did that. That was pretty cool.”
Santa Barbara coach Mark Walsh got a big smile on his face when he was asked about Raisin’s game clincher with 1:59 left.
“It was just a sweet goal, one of the nicest moves I’ve seen him make,” he said. “It just seemed very fitting. It was kind of like a guy in his last game, and you know he’s retiring, and he hits a walk-off home run or a three-pointer. It just seems like the right time to pull him out —‘Hey, that’s going to be the last shot you’re going to take in this pool.’
“What a great way to finish. That was amazing.”
Senior Dylan Fogg scored four goals to lead the Dons, Blix had two and Raisin, Jordan Hayes, Nat Sweeney and Coffin tallied one apiece.
Brian Huynh scored two goals for Edison and Galaz was held to one.
Edison’s energy in the first half surprised Walsh.
“They went into quadruple overtime against Temple City (in the first round), so I just figured they’d be gassed from the emotional game and then a three-hour bus ride up here,” he said. “I thought maybe this could be a team we could jump on early and they’d be just tired and not have it in them. But the opposite happened.”
Edison’s Martin was a wall in front of the cage and that sparked the Chargers on offense.
After Fogg converted a penalty shot to put Santa Barbara up 5-4, Edison scored back-to-back goals — the second on a penalty — in the last 48 seconds to take a 6-5 lead at halftime.
Those goals turned out to be the last that Edison would score.
“To hold a team like that, that’s desperate, to no goals in the second half was great,” said Walsh. “Obviously, a lot of that is Wyatt (goalie Wyatt Pieretti) making good saves, but I thought our defense was good.”
Walsh said the players recognize the importance of playing for each other at the defensive end.
“Everyone just understands how important they are and they’re just one piece of the cog of our defense,” he explained. “If one guy is not helping another guy, then it breaks down. So they all know what they need to do if one guy is in trouble. They’re kind of like on a pulley system, helping each other at all times. It’s pretty fun to watch.”
He gets to watch it again in the quarterfinals.