No. 2 USC Charges Up For Comeback At No. 5 Cal
Nov. 9, 2013
BERKELEY, CALIF. -- The No. 2 USC men's water polo team sputtered out of the gates but regrouped with a focused comeback that saw the Trojans pass up No. 5 host California today and steal away an 11-9 victory over the Bears in Berkeley. Kickstarting the Trojan offense was junior Kostas Genidounias whose five goals were the linchpin in the USC comeback effort. The victory improves the Trojan cause to 21-2 overall on the year, now with a 3-1 mark in MPSF play.
USC trailed by three during the first period of play and didn't find its way into the lead until late in the second frame. The Bears would force the issue, taking a lead to open the second half, but the teams were tied entering the final period of regulation. That's where the Trojans locked in. The USC defense tightened the reins, and the offense spread the ball round for scores from Mace Rapsey, Kostas Genidounias and Rex Butler to counter a single power play goal by Cal, and USC emerged victorious 11-9 from a gut check in Berkeley. Genidounias' five-goal outing bumps the Trojan junior up to rank No. 6 all-time at USC, now with 162 career goals.
The Trojans had to shrug off a spirited onslaught of offense by the Bears, who were intent on defending their home pool against the five-time defending NCAA champs. Cal struck first, and although Kostas Genidounias gave an early glimpse of his firepower with an equalizer, the Bears blasted three straight scores to push the Trojans back on their heels. Cal had tallied goals on its first four possessions before the USC defense locked in and finally made a stop. Genidounias fired back with 2:45 to go with a rocket from distance to stop the bleeding, and the USC defense held strong the rest of the frame in turning away the Bears on the next opportunities. With 13 ticks to go in the first frame, freshman Nick Bell rifled one in to cut it back to a one-goal deficit as the first crazy eight minutes of play were complete.
No longer fazed by that early Cal surge, the Trojans breathed new life. Russell Renteria whipped in a clutch score to finally pull USC even in the early goings of the second, and USC goalie James Clark came up with the save at the other end to hold USC and Cal even at 4-4. The Bears would break through next to get back on top, but USC answered with a vengeance. Nikola Vavic found Renteria for a searing backhand to equalize again, and Rex Butler came up with the steal for the Trojan defense. A minute later, Connor Virjee found Genidounias for a laser at the post, and USC had its first lead of the match, up 6-5 with 3:35 on the clock. The only thing that could crack the revamped USC defensive effort in the half was a Cal 6-on-5 strike, and that left things as a 6-6 lockup at the break.
Cal drew first blood in the third to take a 7-6 lead, but that would be the last time the Bears would sit on top. The Trojan defense took the ball back on the next Cal possession, and Nikola Vavic swiped in unstoppable crosscage bullet to make it 7-7 with 6:03 on the clock. Clark put a stop to a Cal 6-on-5 chance later, and the hero of the day, Genidounias, found the back of the net for the fourth time to pump the Trojans up to an 8-7 edge. And yet, Cal managed to force the fifth tie of the game with another close-range score, making 8-8 entering the fourth.
A defensive start to the final period was broken wide open when Vavic sailed a perfect setup pass to Mace Rapsey on the post for the go-ahead Trojan score. Clark stood tall in the cage for a series of three straight saves to deny Cal an equalizer, and a Bear offensive foul turned the ball back to the Trojan attack next. Genidounias delivered his fifth of the day to bump USC to its largest lead of the game at a 10-8 Trojan advantage with 4;08 remaining. Once again, the only way through for the Bears was one last 6-on-5 try, converted by Cal with 2:57 on the clock to tighten it up, but USC would finish one off itself a minute and a half later. Working the ball around in the hunt for a successful power play and some crucial padding to their lead, the Trojans moved the ball from Genidounias to Rex Butler on the right side. The lefty pounced on the opportunity, slicing in the score for an 11-9 USC lead with 1:33 to go. That gave the USC defense the chance for another shutdown. Clark hauled in a lob try, and the Trojans ran out the clock with patience to keep that 11-9 lead locked on the board as the final score in the Trojans' favor.
The Trojans now head home for a quick turnaround with another MPSF match set for tomorrow (Nov. 10) against Pepperdine at 1 p.m. at USC's own pool at the Uytengsu Aquatics Center.
#2 USC 11, #5 California 9
SAVES: James Clark (USC) 10, Jon Sibley (CAL) 14.