Water polo falls in semifinal thriller
In a rematch of the 2018 NCAA Championship match, the No. 2 USC men’s water polo team fell 1 goal short of a 15th consecutive trip to the finals in a triple overtime showdown against No. 1 Stanford Saturday in Stockton.
The Trojans dug out of a 4-goal deficit after a shaky first half filled with missed opportunities. Cardinal redshirt junior 2-meter Ben Hallock and junior driver Tyler Abramson contributed to Stanford’s early lead and finished with 4 and 3 goals on the day, respectively.
USC’s chances seemed slim after Abramson and sophomore driver Quinn Woodhead put together a 5-0 run in response to a goal by freshman driver Marcus Longton, which gave the Trojans a lead early on.
Junior driver Jacob Mercep helped cut the difference to 3, but early in the fourth quarter Stanford created another scoring opportunity out of its 14th power-play of the game, bringing the score to 12-8.
Despite losing sophomore 2-meter Jake Ehrhardt to a misconduct call early in the fourth, the rest of the Trojans’ scoring depth stepped up. Senior 2-meter Matt Maier began the comeback effort with a quick score from center, and sophomore driver Hannes Daube managed to send one to the back of the net before collecting his third and final ejection of the game.
With the score 12-10 and a little over three minutes to go, Mercep picked up his fifth goal of the game. Just a second before the buzzer sounded, redshirt junior driver Luke Wyatt tied up the game to send it into overtime.
“Until the whistle blows, we don’t stop for a second,” senior driver and captain Marin Dasic said in an interview with the L.A. Times. “We just kept going like its 0-0. We had hope. We had will.”
Mercep collected his third and final foul with a minute left in the first overtime period, leaving the Trojans without their top three scorers.
A penalty shot block by sophomore goalie Nic Porter and Dasic’s second goal of the day gave the Trojans a 1-goal lead going into the second overtime period.
The Trojans weren’t able to hold the advantage, though, as a quick goal from Woodhead brought the game into sudden death in front of a raucous crowd.
Cardinal sophomore driver Spencer Hanson put the finishing touches on the back-and-forth battle, sending Stanford to the championship game with a 15-14 victory.
Saturday’s thrilling semifinal marked the end of the Trojans’ tumultuous season and brought their overall record to 15-6.
Head coach Marko Pintaric told the L.A. Times that falling just short of the final did not eclipse the work that the team had put in all season.
“When a team gives everything they have, which they did today, did they really lose?” Pintaric said. “So I’m very proud of this group [and] what they overcame.”