In a tough repeat of last year’s NCAA Championship, the top-ranked men’s water polo team lost to No. 2 Cal after a closely fought battle in Berkeley, Calif., on Saturday. The match went down to the final quarter, but it was the Golden Bears who ultimately prevailed, 6-3.
Having focused on defensive preparation throughout the season, the Trojans started off strong as senior goalie McQuin Baron tallied five saves to begin the match. Building from the strong defense, senior utility James Walters pushed forward and scored the opening goal — the only score of the first quarter.
Entering the second, the Trojans had momentum, but Cal’s defense shut them out throughout the period. The Bears were also able to figure out a way to get past Baron and USC’s defense. By halftime, the Trojans found themselves down 3-1.
USC looked like it was returning to form to open the third quarter, as sophomore 2-meter Matt Maier put a shot away to pull the Trojans within one. As Baron held the fort defensively, junior driver Zach D’Sa tied things up halfway through the period. But with seconds left in the third, Cal was able to fire another shot past Baron, giving the Bears the lead once again heading into the final quarter.
Their momentum continued into the fourth as Cal broke down USC’s defense. The Bears took advantage of a Baron ejection to extend their lead to 5-3, and none of USC’s shots hit their mark as the Trojans came up empty for the entirety of the quarter. Cal scored once more to finish USC off, maintaining its perfect home record this season.
While a frustrating game for the Trojans, the team found a silver lining this weekend when it traveled to No. 5 Pacific on Sunday and clinched an 11-7 victory. Baron tallied 15 total saves at Cal, and he needed only one more against the Tigers to reach 1,000 career saves. He claimed 15 more to blow past the mark: It was only fitting Baron accomplished the feat against Pacific, considering the only other player in MPSF history who managed to tally 1,000 career saves was former Tiger Alex Malkis, who played from 2010 to 2013.
Even though they ended on a positive note this weekend, the Trojans will still look to rebound in pursuit of a national championship. Next up, USC readies for a trip to Westwood on Saturday to face crosstown rival No. 3 UCLA in the Trojans’ regular-season finale.