BWP: Dons fall short in quarterfinals, 9-8

Santa Barbara's Adam Gross faces a big Damien defender as he looks to shoot. Gross scored five goals for the Dons. (John Dvorak/Presidio Sports photos)

Santa Barbara’s Adam Gross faces Damien defender Zach Luci as he looks to shoot. Gross scored five goals for the Dons. (John Dvorak/Presidio Sports photos)

Damien used a four-goal outburst and some suffocating defense to deny fourth-seeded Santa Barbara High a trip to the CIF Division 2 boys water polo final four.

Damien earned the semifinal berth in Irvine as it contained the Dons’ two leading scorers and held on for a 9-8 victory in a quarterfinal game Saturday at the SBHS pool.

Santa Barbara had a good look at a tying goal in the final five seconds, but Jack Rottman’s shot at the near post was saved by Damien goalie William Dennis.

The Dons had a couple of other scoring chances in the game float on the goal-line before Dennis scooped them up.

Damien’s defense played key part in its win. The Spartans held Santa Barbara’s top goal scorer Sawyer Rhodes to two goals and Rottman, the No. 2 scorer, to one.

“Our main priority was to make sure that we were going to make other players on the team beat us,” Damien coach Joshua Thomasson said. “We know who those guys are and we had to make sure we took them out of the game if we were going to be successful today.”

Matt Maier and Jasen Swan spearheaded Damien’s defensive effort.

“Those are our two defensive guys. They really anchor the defense with communication and good play. And today the communication really helped us,” said Thomasson.

“They have a lot of really good players, so it’s hard for us to find any advantages in the pool,” Santa Barbara coach Mark Walsh said. “We thought we had one at two meters but we weren’t very productive there. Some of it was our passing, some of it was our not finishing from there. We had two balls literally on the goal line. Obviously, we were close.

Adam Gross was Santa Barbara’s leading scorer with five goals and an assist.

Damien spread its scoring between five players. Jasen Swan led the Spartans with four goals, Jason Travisano had two and Blake Brutocao, Matt Quinn and Matt Maier added one apiece.

Rhodes scored his first goal in the first period and didn’t score again until he converted a penalty shot with 5:15 left in the fourth.

“Sawyer was being keyed on by one of their better players. We were trying to use Rottman a little bit more and we just weren’t able to do that,” said Walsh.

Gross tallied two goals in the first period and another on a power play at the start of the second to give the Dons a 4-1 lead. But Santa Barbara wouldn’t score again in the period.

Damien’s Travisano scored off a restart and Swan buried a shot from the perimeter to cut Santa Barbara’s lead to 4-3. Rottman had a point-blank shot blocked by Dennis and Evan Blix left a shot floating on the goal-line before the end of the second period

Swan finished a beautiful shot into the upper right corner to tie the score at 4-4 early in the third period. But Santa Barbara answered with goals from Rottman (assisted by Gross) and Gross to go up 6-4.

The Dons were then hit with the second ejection of Blake Spiller and Damien capitalized with four straight goals. Quinn scored on a power play and Travisano delivered the tying goal by just beating the shot.

The Spartans took the lead (7-6) on a goal by Matt Maier off a Zach Luci assist. Luci then scored from the wing to put Damien ahead 8-6.

“In the third quarter, we kind of fell apart defensively,” Walsh said. “Blake Spiller got two kick-outs and I subbed him out for a minute and we literally gave up two goals.”

With the momentum clearly in its favor, Damien scored to start the fourth period on a crazy shot by Swan. With his back to the goal and the shot clock winding down, he flung the ball over his head and into the back of the net for a 9-6 lead.

“He always surprises us with some good shots,” Thomasson said. “It’s great to get them in a game like this, because we know we’re gong to get great defense from him all the time.”

There was still plenty of time for a Santa Barbara comeback. Rhodes scored on penalty shot and Barrios drove inside and lobbed the ball over the goalie, cutting the deficit to 9-8.

Dons goalie Justyn Barrios, meanwhile, was blocking or tipping everything Damien fired at him.

Dennis also came up big down the stretch for Damien, stopping a pair of game-tying scoring attempts by Rottman.

Walsh said the Dons and Damien played a tight game in an meeting at the Steve Pal Tournament. The Dons won that game 11-10.

“It would take almost a perfect game for us to beat them,” the Dons coach said. “We played great for a while but it was not enough.”

Thomasson was thrilled to beat a prestigious program like Santa Barbara.

“It means a lot, absolutely, to come up here, play a close game and come out on top.”

Santa Barbara, which last played in the CIF semifinals in 2012, finishes the season at 25-6; Damien is 22-9