Francisco Valladares probes the Servite defense | Credit: Victor Bryant

The Division I playoffs were unkind to the Santa Barbara High boys’ water polo team, as visiting Servite built an early lead and cruised to a 9-3 victory on Wednesday night, in a first round match.

Mateo Obando scored a goal for Santa Barbara less than a minute into the game, giving the Dons a brief 1-0 lead, but Servite used a 3-0 second quarter to take control and advance to a second-round match on Saturday.

“They are just a really good team. You could see size and strength-wise we didn’t have a lot of good matchups, we were kind of outmanned at every position,” said Santa Barbara coach Mark Walsh. “It’s hard to create offense that way.”

The Dons hung tough early as the two teams were tied 1-1 after the first quarter. Goalkeeper Jaxon Burford spearheaded a solid Santa Barbara defense that kept the Servite offense quiet for the majority of the first half.

“We decided we wanted to make them take outside shots at the start so we said let’s commit more to helping and make them shoot outside shots and no counter attack shots,”Walsh said. “Being tied 1-1 at the end of the first quarter is great obviously, but then we started to get a little tired.”

Senior Steven Rubly led the way for Servite with three goals, including the go-ahead shot that put Servite ahead 2-1 with 4:14 remaining in the second quarter. Andrew Cagney and Lucas Rodriguez also added second quarter goals for Servite.

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The Friars built on their lead early in the third quarter as Cagney found Kai Baker, who scored at the 5:01 mark of the third quarter to put Servite ahead 5-1.

Rubly laced a shot from straight-on off a nice pass from Matthew Arrellano, increasing the Servite lead to 6-1 with 16 seconds remaining in the third quarter to deliver what felt like a dagger to Santa Barbara’s hopes of advancing. 

“We really focused on (Jerrad Burford) and (Landin Romo), who do a lot of their work on the left side of the pool,” said Servite coach Andy Coffman. “I just thought we followed the game plan well and we looked prepared on defense.”

After falling behind 8-1, Santa Barbara got late goals from Ryder Green and Romo to break out of the offensive malaise that plagued the team for the majority of the game. 

Santa Barbara finished with a 25-7 overall record, which includes an undefeated run through Channel League play.

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