No. 1 USC Stalls Out Cal For MPSF Semifinal Victory|
April 30, 2016
BAKERSFIELD, CALIF. -- The top-ranked USC women's water polo team clamped down on California in the second half to make a move to victory, preserving the Trojans' undefeated record while stepping into the MPSF championship match with today's 6-5 semifinal win in Bakersfield. USC shrugged off a two-goal deficit and then dug out of a one-goal hole at halftime thanks to a powerful defensive stand in the second half. USC shut down the Golden Bears and grabbed the two goals it needed to lock in on its 22nd win of 2016. The 22-0 Trojans will now face Stanford in the MPSF title match tomorrow (May 1) at 2:30 p.m. at the John S. Hillman Memorial Aquatics Center in Bakersfield.
The No. 5 seeded California was looking for another upset after edging out No. 4 seed Arizona State yesterday to take a place in today's semifinals. The Golden Bears came to play, and engaged the Trojans in a tense battle down to the wire. Cal drummed up the opening goal with a crosscage lob before USC got down to business with some powerful play out of two-meters. Brigitta Games established her dominance at set and stabbed in a score while submerged at set to level the game 1-1. Avery Peterson stepped up next and made it a scoring run for the Trojans with her solo shot to net USC a 2-1 lead in the final minute of the first. Cal would have the last word of the frame however, netting another slick shot to equalize at 2-2 just seconds before the buzzer. USC looked on track to righting the ship in the second with more hard work from Games paying dividends. Cal would turn away a 6-on-5 set up by Games early, but Games would get USC a 5-meter penalty shot on the next possession, and Stephania Haralabidis nailed it to take USC ahead 3-2. The Trojans would come up empty for the next 6:30, though, while Cal managed to piece together a three-goal scoring surge that crafted a 5-3 lead for the Golden Bears. With six seconds left in the half, USC finally broke its silence as Haralabidis sailed a cross to Hayley McKelvey for a crosscage ripper that tugged the Trojans to within one by the break, down 5-4 to Cal at halftime.
Once more, Games would make a power move for the Trojans to open the next quarter. Her efforts were awarded with another 5-meter penalty shot, and this one she finished off herself to lock up the game at 5-5 barely 30 seconds into the second half of action. Cal earned a 6-on-5 chance next, but misfired thanks to some tough Trojan defense, and that would set a tone for the remainder of the half. USC, meanwhile, hammered in the go-ahead goal on a 6-on-5 finish from McKelvey -- also on a setup from Haralabidis -- to sneak the Trojans into a 6-5 lead with 5:38 on the clock in the third. The next 10 minutes would see a stalemate between the Trojans and the Bears. USC's offensive opportunities were limited, while Cal was able to pile up plenty of looks at the USC cage. But the Trojan defense won the day, shutting down all six Cal power plays in the second half while goalie Amanda Longan collected 10 second-half saves to stymie the Bears and keep a tight grip on the lead and the 6-5 win for the Trojans.
The semifinal victory sets the stage for a USC-Stanford title match tomorrow (May 1) at 2:30 p.m. to decide the automatic bid to the coming NCAA Tournament. The undefeated Trojans have beaten Stanford twice this season, last in an 8-3 win in Palo Alto. USC also edged out the Cardinal 7-6 earlier in the season in the Trojans' only other one-goal game of the year.