No. 2 USC finishes third in MPSF Tournament

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After a Senior Day win over No. 3 UCLA Nov. 6, No. 2 men’s water polo sputtered in the MPSF tournament this weekend. The Trojans dropped the first-round matchup against the Bruins 6-5 and defeated No. 1 UC Berkeley 11-9 for a third-place finish.

The MPSF semifinal was the opposite of the Senior Day game. The game began with quick-paced, back-and-forth scoring. UCLA struck first, forcing USC to play catch up. The Trojans were able to answer each Bruin strike in the first quarter. Each side scored a penalty shot, and they entered the second period tied at 3-3.

Whistles plagued USC in the second quarter. The Trojans conceded on two power plays, including one that saw senior goalie Nic Porter excluded from play. USC gave away a penalty with 39 seconds to go in the second period, and the Bruins netted the five-meter attempt to make it 6-4.

USC couldn’t capitalize when the refs’ calls went in its favor. UCLA completely shut the Trojans out on 11 of its 6-on-5 plays, and the Trojans finished the half with a 6-4 deficit.

“[We need to be more] aggressive,” Head Coach Marko Pintaric said. “Our team was more aggressive against [California] the day after, and it showed … It’s something that we will address and work on in preparation for the NCAA Tournament.”

USC cranked up the defensive intensity in the second half against UCLA, as Porter kept a clean sheet in the last 16 minutes. The Trojans stole the ball three times, and senior 2-meter Jake Ehrhardt parried away as many shots. But, their offensive struggles continued. Redshirt junior driver Hannes Daube set the table for graduate student 2-meter Wyatt Barker in the middle of the third to make it 6-5. The Bruins held off the Trojans for the remainder of the third and fourth periods, eliminating USC from the MPSF title race and sealing the 6-5 defeat.

In the third-place game, it was more of the same neck-and-neck competition with Berkeley as the game remained close until the fourth quarter.

With the score tied at 8, redshirt senior driver Jacob Mercep took control of the game. Mercep found sophomore driver Carson Kranz for a goal and then fed Daube for another. He increased the USC lead to 3 goals as he scored one himself with just over a minute left in regulation. The Bears got one back, but it wasn’t enough, sealing the win for the Trojans.

USC earned the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament despite losing to UCLA. The team will await the winner of Thursday’s game between UC Davis and Long Beach State.

“Our job is to really do the background search and to really put the players in a better situation,” Pintaric said. “I’m glad [our mistakes at this tournament] happened, and that we have another tournament to correct that.”

USC’s first tournament game will be the semifinal Dec. 4 at UCLA.