Stockton, Calif. - In what has become the norm for this year's Pacific men's water polo team, the Tigers' match versus No. 1 USC came down to a single goal.
It took extra time to decide a victor, but the visiting Trojans escaped Kjeldsen Pool with an 11-10 win in a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation counter Sunday, November 13.
Pacific (11-11, 1-6 MPSF) has now played in four consecutive matches that have been decided by one goal. It was also the Tigers' seventh overtime match of the season. All told, Pacific has seen ten of its contests end with a one-goal difference. The Tigers are 3-7 in those matches.
"I have never believed in this more than I do right now despite the result," Pacific head coach James Graham said. "I cannot be more proud of the effort and heart that these guys showed out there today."
USC, winners of the last three NCAA Championship titles, got on the board first but Pacific responded with a score from senior Daniel Lungu to tie the match at 1-1 early in the first quarter. Sophomore Balazs Erdelyi's goal at the 2:22 mark put the Tigers on top before the visitors tallied thirty seconds later behind a goal from Brian Boswell, knotting the game at 2-2.
Boswell's score ignited a 4-1 run by the Trojans (19-2, 7-0 MPSF) that gave them a 5-3 lead with 5:03 left in the first half. Senior Jasper Visser was responsible for the Tigers' goal, netting his sixth goal of the season. After drawing an exclusion, senior Tom Koning brought Pacific back to within one before scoring a second time to tie the game at 5-5 with 3:50 left. USC's Mace Rapsey would put the visitors back on top at 6-5 with just 41 seconds remaining before intermission.
The Tigers found their All-American center early in the third as junior Goran Tomasevic put a shot past USC's goalkeeper to tie the game at 6-6. Koning was whistled for a penalty at the 4:58 mark that the Trojans converted to reclaim the lead, but Pacific answered with a power-play goal from Erdelyi and a skip shot from senior Tyler Reardon to go up 8-7 with 1:25 left in the frame. A USC goal with five seconds remaining brought the two squads even with one quarter left to play.
Both teams tightened up their defense early in the fourth. Pacific managed to break through with a six-on-five goal from Tomasevic at the 3:42 mark that gave the Tigers a 9-8 lead. Koning was whisteled for his second penalty and third ejection of the match with 1:54 left, allowing the Trojans a shot from five meters out. The visitors would convert to tie the match at 9-9. Neither team managed to find the back of the cage the rest of the way, forcing the match into overtime.
USC's Tobias Preuss gave the Trojans a slim one-goal advantage at the 1:26 mark of the first extra period. Freshman Alex Obert was able to draw a penalty at the 1:16 mark that gave Tomasevic a free shot on goal, but the Trojans' goalkeeper made an incredible save to preserve the lead. Preuss would score again with 52 seconds left to put the visitors up 11-9. It was not until there were 36 ticks left in the second overtime period that Lungu recorded his second goal of the game. It proved too little, too late, however, as the visitors were able to hold the ball for the next 35 seconds to secure the win.
Erdelyi, Koning, Lungu, and Tomasevic each led the Tigers with a pair of goals. Pacific's 10 scores were the most USC has given up this season as no other team had managed more than eight goals against the Trojans' defense. USC last gave up 10 goals versus California in last year's NCAA Championship match. Before that, the last team to put 10 shots past the Trojans was UCLA on September 9, 2010.
Sophomore Alex Malkis manned the cage for Pacific, recording 14 saves including numerous key blocks that kept the Tigers in the match.
USC was paced by two scores apiece from Preuss and sophomore Nikola Vavic. Nine different Trojans scored on the day. Senior goalkeeper and reigning MPSF Player of the Year Joel Dennerley tallied nine saves, six of which came in the fourth quarter and two overtime periods.
Pacific will play its final regular-season game Saturday, November 19, when it welcomes No. 8 Long Beach State to Kjeldsen Pool for a noon match. The Tigers will honor their 10-man senior class prior to the opening sprint.
USC 2 - 4 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 0 -- 11
Pacific 2 - 3 - 3 - 1 - 0 - 1 -- 10
USC - Preuss 2, Vavic 2, Boswell, Davie, Genidounias, Kurzeka, Plaga, Rapsey, Rosenthal
Pacific - Erdelyi 2, Koning 2, Lungu 2, Tomasevic 2, Reardon, Visser
USC - Dennerley 9
Pacific - Malkis 14