Water polo misses chance for revenge against Pacific

Sophomore 2-meter Jake Ehrhardt put in a goal for the Trojans before he was ejected due to exclusions in the fourth quarter. (Jo Danielle Esteban / Daily Trojan)

The No. 4 Trojans missed an opportunity for revenge in a narrow 12-11 loss to No. 3 Pacific this past Saturday. It is the first time the Tigers have defeated USC twice in the regular season.

In a game that was neck-and-neck throughout, the outcome came down to missed opportunities on exclusions and defensive mishaps.

“Offensively [exclusions were] definitely the reason why [we lost], but again, our defense is the reason why we actually lost the game,” head coach Marko Pintaric said following the match. “We allowed natural goals from the center position that we, as a team, wanted to make a statement not to give up those goals.” 

USC’s defensive focus was apparent from the start, as Pacific’s first two shots on goal were blocked by junior driver Jacob Mercep. After two more drives ended with no score, redshirt senior utility Luke Pavillard put the first point on the board for the Tigers. The Trojans answered back with goals by drivers sophomore Hannes Daube and senior Marin Dasic to give USC an early lead. 

With just over three minutes to go in the first, 2-meters sophomore Jake Ehrhardt and Matt Maier received their first exclusions. After a quick timeout, the Tigers took advantage on the power play as senior attacker Engin Ege Colak evened the score to 2-2.

Pacific won the sprint to start the second, and Ehrhardt received his second exclusion for a penalty foul. The Tigers weren’t able to take advantage until a turnover allowed freshman utility Jeremie Cote to put one in the back of the net. The advantage was short-lived, as Dasic scored on USC’s following drive. 

After another turnover, Daube received his first exclusion for a minor act of misconduct. Pacific repeated its timeout strategy and freshman attacker Matthew Hosmer was able to score the Tigers’ fourth goal. Pacific had little time for complacency, as Mercep scored on a penalty shot to equalize the score yet again. 

With three minutes left in the half, Pacific scored on back-to-back drives on shots by Colak and senior utility Andrea De Nardi. The next three drives saw three exclusions from USC redshirt senior 2-meter Sam Slobodien, Mercep and Dasic, which resulted in a goal by senior attacker Luis Araya. With a few more missed shots on both sides and another exclusion for Mercep, the second period closed with USC just trying to keep it starters from getting kicked out of the game. 

The third quarter started with USC’s Slobodien adding his name to the scoresheet. At almost three minutes in, sophomore 2-meter Bogdan Djerkovic scored for the Tigers, bringing their lead to 8-5. Both teams ramped up their attack, with Ehrhardt sending one in with four minutes left, Pacific answering on the next drive, and Slobodien scoring on a 6-on-5 to bring the teams within two points. 

Maier then received his second exclusion, but a quick block from redshirt junior utility Luka Karaman prevented another power play score by the Tigers. Just over a minute later, Maier received his third exclusion and was the first starter to foul out. Redshirt junior driver Luke Wyatt fired in a goal which was quickly answered by Pacific. However, USC was not finished yet — another goal from Dasic brought the score to 9-10 heading into the fourth.

The fourth quarter started relatively calmly, as USC relied on its defense to keep Pacific from expanding its lead. Mercep scored three minutes in to tie things up at 10. On the next drive Ehrhardt received his third and final exclusion, leaving two USC starters out of the final quarter. 

“We had to instruct our players to get outside of their comfort zone and start dropping deeper,” Pintaric said regarding the team’s adjustments. “And even though they’re smaller players, they have to go behind bigger players, relying on a drop not to get ejected. So it did affect the way our defense originally was planned.”

After another timeout, Pacific’s De Nardi scored to put the Tigers ahead. A goal from Slobodien put USC in contention for an overtime effort, but it was a final goal from Pacific’s Araya with three and a half minutes left that made the final score 12-11. 

With their overall record now standing at 9-3, the Trojans will look to improve their away game streak against Pepperdine this Saturday at 2 p.m.