SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – After 1:23 seconds went by in the eighth period of game action, Samantha Murphy delivered the golden goal to send No. 9 UCSB to Sunday's Championship game, as the Gauchos upset No. 7 UC Irvine in a 7-6 sudden death overtime marathon.
"We knew were going against a contender today," UCSB head coach Serela Kay said about UC Irvine who has won five of the seven Big West Championships. "Across the board, we had a great team effort with this win."
Setting up Murphy's golden goal was a key defensive play from freshman Sarah Kreiser who took a steal and started a UCSB counter attack. Bryn Hudson then took the ball at the wing and pump faked before dishing the ball off to Murphy who roped in the game-winning shot into the back of the net.
"I'm so excited to be playing in the championship game," Murphy said. "It's been our goal this season to get to the championship game and now it's a reality. It's a really great feeling."
A tough defensive effort by UCSB was led with Mackenzie Brokaw's 11 saves. The senior really stepped up her game in the third quarter when she notched five blocks to help UCSB a 5-2 edge, the largest lead for any team.
Before heading into the second half, the teams battled to a 2-2 draw by the end of the first quarter, while Murphy gave her team its first lead midway through the second. On the play, the senior grabbed a steal in midair and took off with the ball on a sprint. With no one catching up with her, Murphy capitalized on her one-on-one take with UCI's goalkeeper and put the Gauchos ahead with 2:45 left in the half.
That play sparked a staunch defensive stance from the Gauchos until the end of the period, as the team combined for a myriad of field blocks to preserve the lead.
And though UCSB was able to limit UC Irvine for 16 minutes, the Anteaters roared back into contention in the fourth quarter with two goals in the second minute of game action.
Bryn Hudson found Martin inside for a sweep shot to keep UCI at bay with a 6-4 edge, but the Anteaters' Emily Carlson completed her hat trick with two more goals in the final 3:02 to force overtime.
With neither team able to find the back of the cage in the initial extra periods, the game soon progressed to a rare eighth period of play – unchartered territory for many teams. But despite already putting in nine extra minutes of water polo, the Gauchos were prepared, as they already played in a similar scenario with UC Davis earlier this season.
"After the fourth quarter ended, we all said that we've been here before," Murphy said after the game. "Overtime is something that we have prepared for in training and we're physically conditioned for it and mentally locked in when it comes down to it."
The victory ends the Gauchos' six-game losing to the Anteaters, as they picked up their first win against UCI since 2010.
The Gauchos will play fourth seeded Hawai'i in tomorrow's championship game at 2 p.m. Tickets for the game can be purchased at Campus Pool and online.