The #5 Chapman Panthers traveled up to face the #9 UCSB Gauchos for the final game of both team’s regular seasons and a chance to earn a first round bye in next week’s league playoffs. The Chapman Panthers have held the SLC North crown for the last six years and this year was no different.
The SLC North (Southwest Lacrosse Conference) is a division that includes UCSB, UCLA, USC, Claremont, UNLV, LMU and Chapman. The winner of the North plays the winner of the first round game between the second and third seeds (Grand Canyon University and University of Arizona) from the SLC South in two weeks. The length and competition of an MCLA season makes a bye week crucial for teams to improve chances heading into league playoffs where anything can happen.
UCSB came out fired up. It was their last home game and senior night that featured a full crowd on the sidelines. While the UCSB-Chapman rivalry goes back further back than the creation of the MCLA championships and both have had consistent success on the national stage, Chapman has come out on top of this showdown in recent years. This year would be much of the same.
Los Alamitos alumni Michael Marchand of Chapman took advantage of an aggressive UCSB defense and shook his defensemen at X to score the opening goal of the game. Clutch saves by UCSB senior captain Conrad Carlson held the Panthers offense scoreless for the next eight minutes until freshman Kelly Reagan snuck one past Carlson and Chapman ended the quarter up 2-0.
By the end of the first quarter it was clear that Chapman had the size and speed on D to contain the UCSB offense and keep point leader and CdM alum Casey Mix from being comfortable on their own turf. Long Chapman defensive stands lulled the UCSB defense to sleep and a couple broken plays caught them flat footed and let Keaton Giannotti and Tyler Ankarlo to up the Chapman lead to 4-0. Before the end of the half UCSB finally found grinded out an opportunity for Ryan Walsh to finish a re-dodge from the wing to end the half 4-1 in favor of the visiting Panthers.
The second half featured a much more balanced game with the exception of the first three minutes. Chapman seemed determined to put UCSB away with three quick goals to go up 7-1. A timeout by UCSB coach Mike Allan calmed the momentum created by the six-goal deficit and regrouped the Gauchos. With the UCSB middies being shut down by Chapman’s Colin Laviola and Chris Herrmann, UCSB turned to its attack and halved the deficit by the fourth quarter with goals by Mix, Johnny Morgan, and Blake Samuel.
Penalties in the fourth gave UCSB the opportunity to make it a game and Carl Tillbury stepped in unguarded and pulled the Gauchos to within two. Just as the crowd began to get into the game and it seemed like the game might come down to the wire, Chapman answered with huge saves from All-American goalie Warren Nielsen and three unanswered by Marchand, Reilly O’Connor and Gianotti. Up 10-5 and UCSB doubling the ball in an effort to scrape back into the game, Chapman put in two more to finish off the game with a 12-5 convincing win heading into league playoffs.
Chapman is almost a lock for a national tournament (held this year in Orange County’s own backyard at home for the Panthers at Chapman) bid but can guarantee their future with a league title in two weekends in the SLC tournament held at La Costa Canyon High School.
UCSB will have to beat #12 University of Arizona if they want any chance getting at least an at-large bid to the National Championships. The winner of the SLC tournament receives an automatic bid to the National Championships but with 10 automatic bids from 10 conferences an at large bid is a battle for leagues with three or four tournament caliber teams (SLC, RMLC, and the WCLL consistently have top teams that are snubbed).
–MaxLaxOC staff report