The USC men’s water polo team claimed third place at the MPSF Tournament held at Uytengsu Aquatics Center over the weekend.
The Trojans beat Stanford in the quarterfinals on Friday, but on Saturday lost to UCLA in the semifinals. However, they came back strong on Sunday with an 8-4 win over Pacific in the third place game.
USC battled back from an early 2-0 deficit with consecutive scores from Blake Edwards in the second period. The first came just seconds after Edwards was stopped on a penalty shot, and then a minute later, Edwards converted again off a turnover forced by Chase Koplow to even the score at halftime.
The Trojans commanded the second half, taking the lead on a goal by Mihaljo Milicevic midway through the third period and Nick Lavayen scored a minute later for a 5-3 advantage. After Pacific responded with a goal to make it 4-3, USC scored four unanswered to pull away for the victory.
The win kept USC’s chances at an NCAA Tournament bid alive.
“It’s a massive win,” Edwards said. “I’m so proud of all the boys. We were under a lot of pressure. Our season was on the line. We just implemented the gameplan perfectly today.”
However, the Trojans’ participation in the tournament is not a certainty yet, as it will likely be them and Pacific battling for the final bid from the MPSF.
“It’s just a great way to end the regular season,” goalkeeper McQuin Baron said on Sunday’s win. “If we don’t get the NCAA bid, that’s an amazing way for our season to end leading into next season.”
A 6-3 loss to UCLA Saturday in the semifinals put a temporary dent in the Trojans’ season.
Despite outshooting the Bruins 25-23, the Trojans were futile on offense, taking more than 22 minutes to score their first goal, which came late in the third period.
USC was shutout through halftime and could only watch as the Bruins built up a 3-0 lead on two first period goals by Danny McClintick and a second period marker by Ryder Roberts.
The Bruins scored three more unanswered goals in the third period. Roberts tallied again and McClintick finished off a hat trick. A penalty shot by Alex Roelse with two minutes to play proved true, and UCLA took a commanding 6-0 lead into the final period.
Despite pressing on defense and hitting a number of posts, the Trojans, who finished 0-for-6 on the power play, came up well short of their crosstown rivals. Mihaljo Milicevic and Mac Carden finally delivered goals in the fourth period, but it was too little, too late.
“UCLA is a very good team,” Edwards said. “They probably have the best defense in the competition. We matched that defense this tournament but offensively we didn’t attack enough. We didn’t make bright decisions. We actually created a lot of offensive opportunities, but the decision making and shot selection was really poor.”
The loss was especially deflating considering the MPSF tournament started out victorious for the Trojans with a 7-6 overtime victory against the Stanford Cardinal Friday morning. The game was the second time this season that USC has defeated Stanford in overtime.
Baron was one of two dominant Trojans in the game, becoming a defensive stalwart in the goal. He had a career-high 19 saves in the game. Baron held the Cardinal scoreless in both of the overtime periods.
The offensive star of the game was sophomore Grant Stein, who would score four goals for the Trojans in the game, including the go-ahead goal in the overtime. Freshman Chase Koplow got in on the action as well contributing two goals. Nick Bell also scored a goal for the Trojans in the game.
The Trojans earned their 11th straight trip to the NCAA Tournament after being awarded an at-large bid into this year’s tournament. They will next take on Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in a play-in game on Dec. 2 at Uytengsu Aquatics Center and if they win, they will advance to the NCAA semifinals.