Ryan Chartrand

Scott Kirkish has been at Cal Poly for six years.

Hands down, he’s the biggest Mustang fan around. And, finally, in his sixth year, he has witnessed an elusive piece of Central Coast history – a Cal Poly men’s basketball win at UC Santa Barbara.

For the record, Cal Poly’s 71-61 win over the rival Gauchos was the second at the Thunderdome in the last 48 years.

Kirkish, the leader of the Mustang Maniacs, made the trip with a small group of Cal Poly aficionados. Only 26 of the 50 free tickets he offered for the game went claimed. Even though he was disappointed more Cal Poly students didn’t make the trip, Saturday night’s win was a memorable one for Kirkish.

The game went a little something like this: Cal Poly struggled to gain a foothold on the defensive boards in the early going. The defensive rebounding was atrocious – eight of the Gauchos’ first 10 points came from put-back efforts. Unfortunately for the Gauchos, offensive rebounding was about their only bright spot.

UCSB, which has now lost three of its last four – including an embarrassing 70-66 misstep against UC Davis – failed to penetrate Cal Poly’s stifling zone defense. The Mustangs switched back and forth between a 1-2-2 half-court trap and a 2-3 zone for most of the game, completely taking the Gauchos out of their rhythm.

And, most importantly, the Mustangs turned the ball over just 12 times.

Plain and simple, Cal Poly was the better team Saturday night. Apparently Bob didn’t make the trip.

But the battle on the court wasn’t the only one worth mentioning. At stake in the bleachers was a battle for supremacy reminiscent of the ancient Battle of Thermopylae.

For a brief background, the Battle of Thermopylae was fought by 300 Spartans and a smattering of their Greek city-state allies against a horde of Persian invaders, a force said to be as large as one-million strong. The soon-to-be big screen hit “300” details the heroic effort by the Spartans.

Kirkish was Cal Poly’s King Leonidas – the Spartan king. Kirkish was on the front lines along with his foot soldiers as the Mustang Maniacs made their stand.

The Mustang Maniac faction numbered no more than 50, but they, while their University of California counterparts tried to drown out noise coming from Cal Poly’s rooting section, stood admirably in defiance of Gaucho tyranny.

The final attendance was tallied at 3,748 and about 3,700 of those donned the blue and gold.

That’s about 74 UC Santa Barbara-ites to every one Mustang Maniac – advantage: Cal Poly.

The best the Gauchos’ faithful could muster was a few “if you can’t go to school, go to state,” chants (some of which originated with a little encouragement from a flashing “state school” message on the scoreboard). As classless as the Gaucho hosts might have been, every chant was met with ferocity by Cal Poly’s Spartan-like force.

The Mustangs shot back at the state-school banter with everything from “start-ing salary” to “UC.” OK, I know I can’t “say” it, but if you’ve been to a UCSB-Cal Poly basketball game, you know the final three letters to that retort.

And, as the game neared its end with Gaucho fans filing out early, a smile spread over Kirkish’s face.

The Gauchos tried a few more chants in the waning minutes, but each was met with the ultimate comeback a crowd can offer near a game’s end: “Scoreboard! Scoreboard! Scoreboard!”

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