At the outset of Sunday’s 16-6 win over No. 7 UC Santa Barbara at Uytengsu Aquatics Center, it looked as though No. 3 men’s water polo would have a marathon on its hands.
Both teams combined for 4 goals in the first two minutes and a total of 7 by end of the first period. It was not until the second quarter that the Trojans’ defense began to look like the powerhouse opponents are accustomed to facing.
“We just knew that we needed to calm down,” freshman driver Thomas Dunstan said on how his team weathered the early storm. “It was a long week of training but we knew that we had the best goalie in the country in the cage (junior McQuin Baron) so we could just have confidence in him and know that we’d win.”
Dunstan himself provided a stellar effort for the Trojan cause adding 2 goals and four first half assists.
Early in the second quarter, the Gauchos tied the game with a goal from Ivan Gvozdanovic, but they would never come close again. Sophomore driver Zach D’Sa promptly added 2 goals to extend USC’s lead to 6-4.
Then the spotlight was handed over to junior driver Blake Edwards, who took over the day with a stunning scoring output. After already netting in the first quarter, Edwards scored three consecutive times, once off of a 5-meter penalty shot that rocketed into the corner. Edwards saved his most spectacular shot for the final seconds of the first half, when he just managed to get off a cheeky lob shot, fooling keeper Liam Lenham as time expired with the Trojans up 11-5.
“It’s just instinct,” Edwards said on the goal. “I didn’t really have any time to think. I just saw an opportunity to finish and I did. There wasn’t too much thought; I was probably more surprised than anyone else.”
Edwards scored five times in the first half, with his fifth making his 100th career goal for the Men of Troy.
“I didn’t know until after the game that it was my 100th career goal,” Edwards said. “I’m really happy, but more importantly I’m just happy with the performance of the team today. We played really well offensively and we’re starting to work together a lot better.”
For the season, Edwards leads the team with 32 goals averaging an eye popping 2 scores per game.
“It’s just going really fast and it’s going so fast because I’m enjoying it so much,” Edwards said on reaching the century mark. “I love this school and I love this team and the opportunities they’ve given me.”
The second half featured much less explosive offensive play from both squads. The Gauchos scored their final goal in the third quarter and then were stifled by goalie Baron in the final frame. It was the Trojans’ 27th shutout period of the season, making them 15-0 in games in which that was accomplished. Baron continued his stellar season with a solid 10-save day, leading the league with 135 on the season. Just last week, Baron became USC’s second all time leader in that category, recording his 676th career save against No. 8 Pepperdine earlier this month.
Lachlan Edwards also recorded two goals, while D’Sa supplying a hat trick. Dunstan set up a dizzying amount of first half goals and added two scores himself. The final goal of the game came off of junior Bryce Hoerman, who extended the Trojan lead to 16-6 as the clock winded down.
With this most recent win, the Trojans are now 15-1 on the season with their only loss being to conference foe, No. 2 Cal. USC’s next game comes this Sunday at Long Beach State in USC’s first match against an unranked opponent since September.