Defeating No. 18 San Diego State in a sudden death period last season on the road, the No. 6 UC Irvine women’s water polo team prepared for an upset-minded Aztecs squad before ultimately earning a golden goal 6-5 victory from junior defender Gabby Pierandozzi.
Pierandozzi would score a hat trick to lead the ‘Eaters in scoring and also contributed a number of defensive plays to help the team in the comeback effort in the second half.
“She’s had a great season so far [and] is becoming a hard worker in the game,” said Head Coach Dan Klatt, “This is a great season for her to get a lot of time…, she works hard during the game to make things happen and that wasn’t always a trait when she was young but she’s gotten much better and I’m proud of that.”
SDSU junior Caroline Israels led the Aztecs with four goals while senior goalkeeper Rachel Mitchell had an impressive outing in front of the cage with 14 total saves. The Aztecs would have a two score lead heading into the last quarter of play but the ‘Eaters were able to come back and win the game beyond regulation.
“The overall performance left a little bit to be desired today, we passed really poorly and put ourselves in holes,” said a dissatisfied Klatt, “I’m really glad that the team woke up and found a way to win but we still are struggling… in important moments where we can close out games and we’ve got to work on that.”
The first half saw the ‘Eaters score the lone goal of the period from sophomore Corinna Toledo on a fastbreak opportunity from an Aztec turnover. The Aztecs would then erupt in the second quarter with three unanswered goals to give them the 3-1 advantage heading into halftime. After a scoreless third quarter, the ‘Eaters were able to tie the game from goals by Pierandozzi and sophomore Mary Brooks to force overtime at a 3-3 draw. In the overtime period, the ‘Eaters took the lead twice but allowed the Aztecs to tie the game with under a minute left in both sessions. The game finally had a winner when Pierandozzi rifled in a long range shot to the back of the cage to earn her team their third consecutive victory.
“I want us to be playing at a little higher level,” said Klatt, “I think we should be mature enough at this point to be able to play well in important moments to close games out.”
The ‘Eaters will begin their road trip with a visit to the number one team in the country in USC on Friday before heading to Manoa for the Hawai’i Invitational on Mar. 24.