Trojans Roar Back To A 10th Straight NCAA Title Match|
Dec. 6, 2014
LA JOLLA, CALIF. -- The last time the USC men's water polo team played in a sudden-death overtime game, Kostas Genidounias was a freshman. Three years later, as a senior, when his team needed him the most, it was Genidounias' time to shine. His Trojans were just a breath away from missing out on a spot in the NCAA Championship match for the first time in 10 years. No. 2 seeded Stanford had the upper hand on the No. 3 seeded Trojans, up a goal with time draining quickly on regulation. Cue Genidounias. He'd rifle in the equalizer to send things on to overtime, and after a wild six minutes the teams would stretch to sudden death. Genidounias again. His blast would bring the game to a close, finally, with a sudden-death score ending it as a 12-11 USC victory. Now 24-6 overall, the six-time defending NCAA champions head into their 10th straight NCAA final. The Trojans will tangle with rival UCLA in the title match tomorrow (Dec. 7) at 3:10 p.m. at UC San Diego's Canyonview Aquatic Center in La Jolla.
But Genidounias was not the only senior hero today. Rex Butler came up big in regulation. And Marc Vonderweidt was instrumental in OT. It was Butler who pulled things even with his second goal of the game, making it 7-7 in the third period of play to help put the Trojans in position for freshman Mihajlo Milcevic's go-ahead goal. That marked USC's first lead of the game after over 22 minutes of chasing the Cardinal. Vonderweidt, meanwhile, had been setting up his team with the first possession of every period of regulation with his opening sprints. He also delivered an early equalizer in the second, making it 4-4 before Stanford struck off and put USC in a 7-5 hole by halftime. Vonderweidt's wily ways struck again in overtime. Stanford had snagged a dangerous 11-10 lead with just 36 seconds to go in the second overtime. USC was just ticks away from surrendering their first semifinal in recent memory, but Vonderweidt had more to say. With just 10 seconds left, Vonderweidt unleashed a rocket on a USC 6-on-5. His shot tore through to the back of the net, and USC was even again, locked with Stanford at 11-11 to bring up more madness in sudden death.
USC's seniors would contribute eight goals for the Trojan cause. Sophomore Nick Bell -- another Trojan with NCAA championship experience -- delivered two, including a clutch score in the first OT. But what really rounded out the USC semifinal effort was the balance of some new faces to the NCAA realm. On the offensive end, Mihajlo Milicevic rang up two big goals for the Trojans. And at the defensive end, freshman goalie McQuin Baron hauled in a whopping 18 saves to set a new record for single-season saves (282). And those were just the young Trojans who showed up in the box score. In all, USC has nine freshmen on the roster for this 2014 NCAA Tournament, and all will get to pair their first taste of an NCAA final with the championship savvy of their veteran teammates tomorrow.
The Trojans trailed the Cardinal by two goals at the close of the first period and also at halftime, as Stanford got out to a quick start and shrugged off Vonderweidt's second-period equalizer with three goal in four minutes. Down 6-4, USC's Lachlan Edwards had set up his Trojans with a 6-on-5 by earning an ejection, and Genidounias hit Butler for the blast to make it a one-goal game. Stanford fired right back, though, and would hold a 7-5 lead on the Trojans at halftime. USC made its first power move early in the third. Three straight Trojan goals -- from Bell, Butler and Milicevic -- nudged USC into its first lead of the game, up 8-7. That lead would last only barely a minute, though. A Stanford counterattack wound up in the equalizer, and the 8-8 draw would become a 9-8 deficit for USC during the fourth period of play. Late in regulation, Stanford had a chance to put USC in a two-goal hole, up on another power play. Baron came up with a big block, but the rebound fell into Cardinal hands. As Stanford sailed a pass to keep the possession alive, Mac Carden was there for the interception. The crucial shutdown breathed new life into the Trojan efforts. As time ticked down, USC called timeout with 19 seconds left to set up a last-gasp attack. The plan played out perfectly, with Genidounias finding enough space to sneak through the tying goal and push the game into overtime.
In the first OT, Bell provided the early advantage. He'd drill a 6-on-5 strike that gave USC just its second lead of the match, up 10-9. Stanford would lock it back up on a power play of its own, taking it to 10-10 with 23 seconds left in the frame. In the second OT, Stanford forced the issue, with Alex Bowen punching up his fourth goal. That got the Cardinal ahead 11-10 with just 36 seconds left to play. Enter Vonderweidt. The senior whipped in that amazing goal on a USC power play, and at 11-11 there was sudden death on the horizon. A defensive stalemate ensued in sudden death. That is, until Genidounias roared to life. With just five seconds left, Genidounias searing strike was the answer for the Trojans, finally bringing the game to a close after over 40 minutes of play. The 12-11 semifinal victory launches USC into the NCAA championship game for the 10th consecutive season as the Trojans seek a seventh straight national championship.
USC and UCLA will tangle at 3:10 p.m. tomorrow (Dec. 7) in the 2014 NCAA Championship game. The Trojans have beaten the Bruins in the 2009, 2011 and 2012 title matches during their run of six consecutive NCAA titles.
2014 NCAA Championships - Canyonview Aquatic Center (La Jolla, Calif.)
SAVES: McQuin Baron (USC) 18, Drew Holland (STAN) 13.