No. 2 Trojans Take A Spot In Third-Place Game At Mountain Pacific Invite|
Sept. 24, 2016
BERKELEY, CALIF. -- The No. 2 USC men's water polo team was tagged with its first loss of 2016 after falling to host California in the semifinals of the Mountain Pacific Invitational today in Berkeley. The Trojans opened the day soundly with a strong 9-4 win over No. 7 Long Beach State to score a spot in the semis. This evening, USC and the No. 3 Golden Bears tangled for the first time this season, and Cal was able to build a lead and stave off the Trojans for a 10-8 win in this early-season test. USC is now 8-1 overall after today's action and will face Pacific in the third-place game at 1 p.m. tomorrow (Sept. 25) in Berkeley.
In this morning's matchup against No. 7 Long Beach State, USC took a little time in taking control of the game. After the 49ers locked even with the Trojans at 2-2 midway through the first frame, USC's staunch defense squashed the Long Beach State defense for the next 24 minutes of action. In the meantime, the USC offense clicked off six straight scores to craft an 8-2 lead by the time there was just 4 minutes left in the game. Goalie McQuin Baron collected 13 saves in the win, but it was a supporting cast of other Trojans who also stepped up on the defensive end. Blake Edwards nabbed several steals while Bryce Hoerman threw up some hefty field blocks, including the final word of the game to put a stop to the 49ers' seventh 6-on-5 chance. Coincidentally, he had done the same on Long Beach State's first power play as well, while USC did incisive work at the other end to take its first lead. On USC's opening 6-on-5 chance, Lazar Pasuljevic found Lachlan Edwards for a punch at the post to follow Blake Edwards' even equalizer couple minutes earlier. Long Beach State pulled even at 2-2 with a 6-on-5 score next, but that prompted a total lockdown by the Trojan defense. Matt Maier issued a resounding 6-on-5 score that would close the first frame as a 3-2 USC advantage, and the Trojans went right back to work in the next stretch.
In the second, a save from Baron sent USC the other direction, where a solo shot from Grant Stein got USC some padding with a 4-2 lead. After a steal by Mihajlo Milicevic, USC would convert on another slick passing series on a 6-on-5 when Matteo Morelli hit Maier at the post for the slam and a 5-2 advantage. That would hold through to halftime thanks to more stingy defense by the Trojans, who would continue to clamp down on the 49ers in the third. Two more Trojan goals were paired with an empty slate from Long Beach State as Milicevic and Nick Bell got in the scoring column for USC. Bell would nab a steal and Zach D'Sa would slam a field block early in the fourth, and then Blake Edwards ripped in a skipper off the foul to make it a clean run of six straight USC goals since Long Beach State's early equalizer. The 49ers would break their 24 minutes of scoring silence with 3:12 left to play, only to see Sam Slobodien deliver from set next to help work the Trojans along to a final 9-4 victory that sent USC on to the semifinals.
In the evening's semifinal, USC clawed out of an early 1-0 hole with back-to-back scores. Grant Stein finished off a 5-meter penalty shot earned by Lachlan Edwards to equalize, and then Edwards hit Thomas Dunstan for a blast that bumped the Trojans into the lead, up 2-1 midway through the first quarter of play. From there, however, USC's offense would sputter while Cal managed to click off a run of five straight goals to tally a 6-2 halftime advantage. USC finally snapped its silence after about 15 minutes, busting back on the scoreboard with a slick 6-on-5 series that saw Dunstan hit Matteo Morelli, who found Matt Maier at the post for the slam that made it 6-3. Cal would have a strong response, however, delivering back-to-back goals to put the Trojans in an 8-3 hole entering the fourth. With their backs against the wall, the Trojans were able to manufacture a bit of a rally. Blake Edwards and Stein would each connect on USC power plays, and later Morelli and Nick Bell also rang up impressive goals. But each time, Cal had a reply, and it was enough to keep the Trojans at bay down the stretch as the game wrapped as a 10-8 Cal victory.
That puts the Trojans in the third-place game against No. 4 Pacific tomorrow (Sept. 25) to look for a winning finish to their Berkeley trip before USC returns home to host the Tigers in a rematch next week (Oct. 1) at Uytengsu Aquatics Center.
MOUNTAIN PACIFIC INVITATIONAL (Berkeley, Calif.)
SAVES: McQuin Baron (USC) 13, Freeman (LBSU) 7.
SAVES: McQuin Baron (USC) 10, Lazar Andric (CAL) 10.