Dons fight off DP to earn a share of Channel League title

For the first time in five years, Santa Barbara will not be finishing second to Dos Pueblos in the Channel League girls water polo standings.

The Dons earned at least a share of the league title with the Chargers by pulling out a thrilling 8-7 victory over their league rivals on Tuesday at the Santa Barbara pool.

Betsy Hendrix’s goal off a counterattack with 2:28 remaining in the fourth period turned out to be the game-winner. The goal gave the Dons an 8-6 lead.

DP’s Laurel Kistler made it a one-goal game, scoring off a Jamie Neushul assist, and the Chargers had three possessions to tie the score after a trio of brilliant defensive plays by Kodi Hill. But they couldn’t come up with the equalizer. On their last attempt, Hill had her shot blocked in front of the goal and the clock ran out as players scrambled for the loose ball.

The result leaves both teams at 6-1 in league play with each having one game remaining on Thursday. If they finish tied for first, Santa Barbara won the coin-flip to be the league’s No. 1 team for the CIF Division 1 playoffs.

It was in 2007 that Santa Barbara last finished first in the Channel League. That was last year of an 11-year run at the top for the Dons. Dos Pueblos took over and won the last four league titles outright.

Just as it was in the first meeting (a 9-8 DP win), the game was tight and physical from the start. The teams were deadlocked 3-3 at the end of the first period and 4-4 at halftime. A power-play goal by Charlotte Hendrix and full-strength goal by Rocio Fesembeck gave Santa Barbara a two-goal lead at 6-4 in the third period.

Dos Pueblos got one goal back on a beautiful lob shot by Neushul. She tried the shot again on DP’s next possession but Santa Barbara goalie Maddie Trabucco reached high to stop it.

Charlotte Hendrix scored early in the fourth period off an assist from her sister, Betsy, to put the Dons ahead 7-5.

Trabucco blocked a shot by Neushul and DP had another chance slam off the post. Shannon Cleary cut the margin to one with a goal off a rebound with 4:36 left.

After failing to score on a 6-on-5 situation, Santa Barbara got a steal and Betsy Hendrix converted on the counterattack for what proved to be the game winner.

Betsy Hendrix led all scorers with three goals. Charlotte Hendrix scored two and Fesembeck, Sophie Trabucco and Jessica Gaffney one a piece for Santa Barbara (19-7).

Neushul and Shannon Cleary each scored two for Dos Pueblos (15-11), and Kara Horwald, Hill and Kistler each added one.

Dos Pueblos…3 1 1 2 — 7
Santa Barbara…3 1 2 2— 8

Goals—DP: Kistler 1, Hill 1, Cleary 2, Neushul 2, Horwald 1. SB: C. Hendrix 2, Fesembeck 1, B. Hendrix 3, S. Trabucco 1, Gaffney 1. Saves—DP: Vilander 7, M. Trabucco 8.