Trojans avenge Cardinal loss

Sophomore driver Jacob Mercep scored the game-winning goal against Stanford on Sunday. (Josh Dunst | Daily Trojan)

USC had an impressive showing over the weekend as the No. 3 men’s water polo team avenged its only loss of the season against Stanford with a dramatic 10-9 victory in the Mountain Pacific Invitational tournament championship game Sunday. The Trojans had a victory-filled weekend with wins over Air Force, Long Beach State and Cal, paving the way to the championship game.

The Trojans netted a last-second goal to seal the win. USC started off hot when freshman goalie Nic Porter rejected an attempted Stanford five-meter penalty shot. The USC offense notched back-to-back goals by drivers freshman Hannes Daube and senior Zack D’sa. Stanford responded to level the score at 2-2 but USC turned it back on when redshirt junior driver Daniel Leong lasered in a shot to give the Trojans a 3-2 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Leong’s goal started a 4-goal attack from USC with scores from Daube, sophomore driver Marko Vavic and junior driver Marin Dasic. USC led by 4 goals in the third quarter but Stanford slowly narrowed in on the Trojans, evening the score in the final minute of play. Sophomore driver Jacob Mercep notched a game-winning goal with five seconds left in the game, clinching the Mountain Pacific Invitational tournament title for the Trojans.

USC started the tournament with a decisive victory over Air Force on Friday in a 20-6 win. USC notched the first 3 goals of the game and had a 6-2 lead at the half. Junior captain two-meter man Matt Maier and sophomore driver Sawyer Rhodes both had recorded hat tricks in the opening game and eight USC players contributed points in the win over the Falcons. Freshman goalie Sam Krutonog manned the cage for three periods before sophomore Vaios Vlahotasios took over for a fourth quarter shutout.

The Trojans stayed strong Saturday with takedowns of No. 9 Long Beach State in a 14-8 game and No. 4 Cal in a 13-6 semifinal match. USC brought the energy to the morning face-off against Long Beach State, recording the first 4 goals of the game. Long Beach State was able to net 2 goals before the end of the half to trail the Trojans 8-2. Daube completed his hat trick early in the third period and Vavic scored on USC’s second five-meter penalty shot of the game as USC continued on at a steady pace with goals from Mercep and D’sa. Sophomore driver Christian Hockenbury and Leong both netted goals of their own in the fourth quarter to secure USC’s 14-8 victory.

On Saturday afternoon, the Trojans faced Cal for the first time this season in the semifinal game. The game stayed close in the first period, with neither USC nor Cal finding a lead.  Cal answered back to scores from Vavic and redshirt sophomore utility Luka Karaman’s goals with scores of their own, but Rhodes put USC back in the lead with a powerful bar-in goal to give the Trojans a 3-2 advantage. Porter led the defense with 13 saves, including one attempted five-meter penalty shot that would have narrowed USC’s lead to only one point. The Trojans’ advantage quickly widened to an 11-5 lead, scoring the first 4 goals of the second half. USC surrendered only one more goal before capturing a 13-6 win over the Golden Bears and earning its spot in the final.

The Trojans return to Southern California for two non-conference games this weekend. The Trojans face off at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Long Beach State, before hosting Pepperdine at 1 p.m. on Sunday at Uytengsu Aquatics Center.