They came close, but the Anteaters ran out of gas when it counted the most.
Top-ranked USC showed why it deserves to share the nation’s number one ranking with Stanford. The Trojans scored the game-winning goal with 17 seconds remaining in the contest for an exhilarating 10-9 victory over the UC Irvine Men’s Water Polo team on Sept. 20 at the Anteater Aquatics Complex in a non-conference match-up.
Shortly after Trojan sophomore two-meter defender Juraj Zatovic’s clincher, the Anteaters used a timeout to regroup for the game’s final play.
And for the last crucial drive in the game, Head Coach Ted Newland went with his best shooter in junior two-meter Rick Merlo.
‘The plan was to give me the ball. I was going to drive and get ball side,’ Merlo said. ‘But there were three guys on me and then I got the shot off. It worked but I just couldn’t execute.’
Merlo’s potential game-tying play ended with a turnover and seconds later, the match was over.
With the loss, seventh-ranked UCI fell to 3-5 on the season as USC improved to 3-0.
Despite the loss, Newland believes his squad has come a long way since his Anteaters last faced the Trojans on Sept. 14.
‘Last time, they dumped their bench on us and they scored six goals,’ Newland said. ‘USC, they’re ranked number one and to hang with those guys, we had to play well. They should have buried us but they didn’t.’
Newland’s words were reinforced by his players as UCI answered all of the Trojans’ scores until Zatovic’s eventual winner came late in the fourth quarter.
The feeling among the Anteater players after Saturday’s prime-time match-up with the nation’s elite team was a sense of confidence.
‘A lot of the guys were less nervous because a lot of the guys probably thought we’d get beat by quite a bit,’ Merlo said. ‘So we came in less nervous and we were more focused. We just came out ready to play and we played a great game.’
Junior two-meter defender Dan Noon had perhaps the contest’s best game, scoring a game-high four goals for the Anteaters in the loss.
Noon scored Irvine’s last goal of the match at the 4:39 mark in the fourth quarter after the Anteaters ran a pick play. This left Noon wide open for the score to make it 9-9.
The Anteaters and the Trojans battled back and forth throughout the first three quarters of the game. Senior driver Phil Garcia and Merlo contributed to the Anteaters’ scoring with three and two goals, respectively.
Garcia tied it up in the third quarter after he connected on a shot towards the upper corner of the goal from three meters out to make it 8-8 with 10 seconds remaining in the quarter.
Sophomore goalie Joe Wynne recorded nine saves during the game.
The loss for Newland, coupled with UC Irvine’s 9-7 win over Cal Baptist on Sept. 21 means that he is still 10 victories short of 700 for his career.
Currently, Newland boasts a 690-319-5 record.
Irvine faces UCLA at Los Angeles on Sept. 28 for their next game.