NCAA Men's Water Polo Championship: USC, Stanford punch tickets to Sunday's final

Bryan Williams/Stanford Athletics | Katie Chin/USC Athletics

Stanford and USC will meet in the finals of the 2018 NCAA Men's Water Polo Championship after winning semifinal battles with UC San Diego and UCLA, respectively. This will be the 14th consecutive appearance in the NCAA finals for USC, while the Cardinal will be making its first national championship game appearance in 10 years.

Stanford 16, UC San Diego 7

Stanford

Top-seeded and host Stanford pulled away in the second half to defeat UC San Diego 16-7 and advance to its first NCAA final since 2008 Saturday afternoon at the 2018 NCAA Men’s Water Polo Championship semifinals. Pushed by a game Tritons squad, the MPSF-champion Cardinal held a 7-5 halftime lead before blanking UC San Diego in the third quarter, pushing its advantage to 10-5 thanks to two goals from Bennett Williams and another from Blake Parrish. The Cardinal was able to get out in transition and push the counter more effectively in the second half, outscoring the Tritons 9-2 in the second half.

Senior Blake Parrish led the way for the Cardinal with four goals, while Bennett Williams tacked on three and 2018 MPSF Player of the Year Ben Hallock, Marco Stanchi and Dylan Woodhead each scored twice.

Connor Turnbow-Lindenstadt, who scored seven goals on Thursday in the Tritons’ 14-9 NCAA-opening win over Long Beach State, led UC San Diego with three goals.

The Cardinal got out to a 2-0 lead in the first three and a half minutes thanks to goals from Hallock and Parrish, but the Tritons’ 6-on-5 efficiency allowed the NCAA Division II squad to make it a 3-3 game heading into the second quarter, getting a game-tying coal from Carson Ivancovich off a nice grip-and-rip from a Noah Carniglia assist with 1:56 remaining in the first quarter.

Stanford again scored the first two goals of the second quarter, receiving goals from Williams and Dylan Woodhead to push the lead out to 5-3 before the Tritons sandwiched a goal from Stanford’s Marcho Stanchi by Triton strikes from Cooper Milton and Kevin Asplund. It was a 6-5 game in the final minute of the first half before Tyler Abramson scored on a 6-on-5 goal with 25 seconds left to give the Cardinal a 7-5 halftime lead.

The last time Stanford played in the NCAA finals in 2008, the Cardinal lost to USC 7-5, which was the start of six straight national titles for the Trojans.

USC 8, UCLA 7

USC

USC center Sam Slobodien scored the game-winning goal with five seconds left in regulation to lift the Trojans to a thrilling 8-7 win over rival UCLA in the NCAA semifinals Saturday night to set up an unprecedented 14th consecutive appearance in the national championship game.

Posting up at two meters, Slobodien received an entry pass and snuck it just through the nearside post past UCLA goalkeeper and 2017 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player Alex Wolf, who tied his career high with 16 saves in the loss. A long-distance skip from UCLA sharpshooter Nicolas Saveljic skipped harmlessly into the midsection of USC goalkeeper Nic Porter as time expired.

USC, getting revenge on a UCLA team that defeated the Trojans in last year’s NCAA final in the Trojans’ home pool, erased an early two-goal deficit in the back-and-forth battle that saw each of the first three quarters end in a tie score.

MPSF Freshman of the Year Hannes Daube had a hat trick to lead USC, while Slobodien, Matt Maier, Sawyer Rhodes and Jacob Mercep each chipped in one for the Trojans. UCLA freshman Jake Cavano had a hat trick to lead UCLA, which also got a goal apiece from David Stiling, Austin Rone, Warren Snyder and Chasen Travisano.

The first quarter was a defensive struggle, with David Stiling’s 6-on-5 goal in the first minute being UCLA’s only goal in the period and Daube’s laser on a shot off a common foul with 33 seconds remaining being the Trojans’ only first-quarter tally.

The second quarter saw more counterattacking water polo, with USC getting out on the break to create some solid goal-scoring opportunities later in the period. The Bruins scored the first two goals of the period to go up 3-1 thanks to tallies from Austin Rone and Jake Cavano, but Hannes Daube, Matt Maier and Sawyer Rhodes helped get the Trojans back in gear, with Rhodes scoring a transition 6-on-5 goal after he stole a Bruin pass to make it a 4-4 game with 3:21 to go in the first half.

The third quarter was much like the first, with both USC and UCLA scoring one goal apiece. The highlight of the period came on the defensive end, with USC goalkeeper Nic Porter stonewalling UCLA center Felix Brozyna-Vilim twice in a matter of five seconds right on the doorstep midway through the quarter.

The Trojans and Bruins traded goals the whole way through the fourth quarter, with the Trojans never trailing leading up to Slobodien’s game-winner.

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