USC Shoves Past Cal To Punch Ticket To 11th Straight NCAA Title Match|
Dec. 5, 2015
WESTWOOD, CALIF. — The USC men’s water polo team served up another semifinal upset to take its place in the NCAA Championship game for the 11th consecutive season, beating No. 2 seed California 9-6 tonight in Westwood. The Trojans — winners of seven national championships in the past 10 seasons — have earned a rematch against top-seeded UCLA to decide this year’s NCAA title. The crosstown rivals are now set to do battle in the NCAA final for the second straight season, this time in a 6:12 p.m. tilt tomorrow (Dec. 6) at the Bruins’ Spieker Aquatics Center in Westwood.
Tonight’s crucial victory over the Golden Bears was anchored with authority by USC sophomore goalie McQuin Baron, who hammered down a career-high 19 saves. Baron blocked two 5-meter penalty shots and countless close-range blasts from the Bears to help the Trojans get back on the attack. Blake Edwards led the charge on the offensive end for USC, zipping in three goals for the Trojan cause. His third of the night lifted USC to a 6-3 advantage over the Bears, although arguably two of the biggest goals of the night came from the hands of sophomore Matteo Morelli. Cal would claw to within two goals late in the third and fourth frames, threatening to cut the margin down to one if not for Morelli’s clutch scoring. He’d rifle in 6-on-5 scores in both periods to pad USC’s lead back out to three, all but assuring victory for the Trojans. Morelli and Nick Bell would each finish up with a pair of goals for USC, with Bell’s pair coming in the first frame to give an important boost to USC’s campaign. His second bumped USC out to a 4-2 lead, and Cal would get no closer the rest of the way.
Cal was able to get on the board first in this one, striking on an early 6-on-5 chance to nudge ahead 1-0. The Trojans fired right back, however, as Grant Stein hit Lachlan Edwards at set for a ripper that leveled the score less than 10 seconds after the Bears had taken the early lead. About 40 seconds later, older brother Blake Edwards showed his hot hand with a skipper laced into the corner, and USC had a 2-1 lead. After snuffing a Cal 6-on-5 chance next, Nick Bell earned one of his own for the Trojans, and the junior would end up finishing it off in collected a rebound and shoving it through for a 3-1 USC lead. Cal closed back to within one with a 5-meter penalty shot, only to see USC convert on a slick 6-on-5 series. Mihajlo Milicevic worked the ball to Chase Koplow, who hit Bell for the slam and a 4-2 USC lead. Cue McQuin Baron. The sophomore shut down a late Cal 6-on-5 opportunity and continued to control the cage the rest of the way. Baron tipped away Cal’s second 5-meter penalty try, and Blake Edwards rattled in a goal for USC soon after to pad the Trojans’ advantage to 5-2. Cal struck on a power play just before the close of the half, but Baron had made his statement already in the half with 11 saves in that 16-minute span.
Baron collected save No. 12 to kick off the second half, and Blake Edwards delivered his third of the night for a 6-3 lead. Again, Baron came through in the clutch with a booming stop on Cal’s third 5-meter penalty attempt of the game, giving his Trojans a powerful lift for the next stretch. That’s when Stein found Milicevic for a 6-on-5 bullet that made it 7-3 Trojans with 2:57 left in the third. Back-to-back Cal goals tugged the Bears within two, only to have Morelli come through in the clutch with a power play finish that got USC to an 8-5 lead to enter the fourth. In that last eight minutes, Cal put one through out of set, but Morelli had the last word, making it 9-6 Trojans in the final minute to wrap up the big USC victory.
USC will now face UCLA in a rematch of last year’s NCAA final. The Bruins edged out the Trojans in 2014 to snap USC’s run of six consecutive national championships. Still, the Trojans now boast a stretch of 11 consecutive appearances in the NCAA title match, with seven crowns claimed in their previous 10 trips. The Trojans and the Bruins will square off at 6:12 p.m. tomorrow (Dec. 6) at UCLA’s Spieker Aquatics Center in the 2015 NCAA championship game.
2015 NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS
SAVES: McQuin Baron (USC) 19, Lazar Andric (CAL) 8.