HEARTSTOPPERS: In a week when buzzer-beating baskets enhanced and then dimmed UCSB’s hopes of winning the Big West Conference basketball championship, a wildly exciting girls’ water polo game ended with the Santa Barbara High Dons and San Marcos Royals sharing the Channel League title.
For the Royals, who won in overtime, 13-12, it was a huge deal. They beat Santa Barbara for the first time in the 17-year history of CIF girls’ water polo earlier in the month, and by repeating the feat, they earned the No. 4 seed in the Southern Section Division 1 Championships.
The showdown in the San Marcos pool last Thursday was the definition of a seesaw battle. The Royals forged an 11-7 lead with just over three minutes remaining, but the Dons came back and tied the score at the final horn, as Betsy Hendrix’s 20-foot lob found the far corner of the cage just out of goalkeeper Jenna Phreaner’s reach. Hendrix scored again to put the Dons up 12-11 in overtime, but goals by Riley Heiduk and Megan Bergthold, and a save by Phreaner in the final seconds, won the game for San Marcos.
“Our coach told us we’ve come too far to give up now,” said Heiduk, a junior known as Giggles, who scored five goals. “We persevered.”
Royals coach Chuckie Roth considered it more of an honor than a thrill to get the better of Mark Walsh, who has coached eight CIF championship teams and two Olympic players at Santa Barbara. “He’s my best friend,” Roth said. “His girls are lucky to be coached by him.”
Meanwhile, under the big top at UCSB’s Thunderdome, the Gaucho basketball team lost a nail-biter to Cal State Northridge on Saturday. Leading 68-61 with less than two minutes to play, the Gauchos let the Matadors tie it at 71 in the final seconds of regulation, and the visitors won 80-78 on a layup with less than half a second left in overtime. Two days earlier, Michael Bryson’s put-back bucket at the buzzer had given the Gauchos a 65-64 win at Long Beach State and a brief sojourn in first place.
“PLAY BALL”: That call to action was delayed several days at UCSB because of the weather — not the conditions at home, which are perfect for baseball (pray for some rainouts) — but the snow and ice that paralyzed Raleigh, N.C., last week. North Carolina State, one of the nation’s elite teams, was scheduled to open the season with three games against the Gauchos at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium, but the Wolfpack was unable to fly out of the frozen South, and the series was canceled.
UCSB is playing a series at San Jose State this weekend and will visit defending national champion UCLA on Tuesday, February 25, before hosting Princeton in a three-game series beginning Friday, February 28.
The Gauchos played in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002 last season. “That was the start,” said Andrew Checketts, beginning his third year as the head coach. “We want to take our program to Omaha [the College World Series].”
Cal State Fullerton, ranked No. 1 on many preseason ballots, may be the top dog in the Big West, but Checketts said, “Nobody’s got it better than us. We live in Santa Barbara, on the beach, and our young men get a great education.”
Nobody’s off to a better start to the 2014 baseball season than the SBCC Vaqueros. They have scored eight straight victories, the latest being an 8-0 whitewashing of Antelope Valley, and are the only unbeaten community college team in Southern California. They are trying to extend their streak with two home games at Pershing Park this week — West L.A. on Wednesday and East L.A. on Thursday.
An extra-inning loss to Concordia last week prevented the Westmont College baseball team from getting over the .500 mark. The Warriors, 7-8, will host doubleheaders the next two Saturdays during a nine-game home stand.
WARM STOVE: Mike Scioscia attempted to roast Bill Pintard at the recent Santa Barbara Foresters Hot Stove Banquet, but he didn’t get the temperature very high. Scioscia, the manager of the Los Angeles Angels, has an interest in the Conejo Oaks summer league team, a rival of Pintard’s Foresters. “As much as I dislike his five-man infield [a strategy Pintard has successfully pulled off], as much as I dislike his patting himself on the back, he does great things,” Scioscia said.
The Foresters Hall of Fame welcomed two new members, pitchers Dylan Axelrod and Mike Kenney. Axelrod, who is trying to retain a spot on the Chicago White Sox pitching staff, said he has long-lasting friends from the Foresters’ 2006 team, the first to win the National Baseball Congress championship. “That bond starts with Pinner [Pintard],” Axelrod said. “He brings excitement every day in the most monotonous game there is. He is a legend.”