Tigers Take Sixth At MPSF Tournament
The Pacific men's water polo team found itself in a third hard-fought contest in as many days, falling late to No. 5 Long Beach State, 14-12, in the fifth-place game of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament Sunday at USC's McDonald's Swim Stadium.
Pacific (13-12) finished sixth at the tournament for the second-straight season, an improvement over its No. 7 seed. Fifth-seeded Long Beach State (24-8) claimed fifth place.
"I thought we competed hard all weekend," head coach James Graham said. "We were confident that we could come down here and compete with any team, and I thought we did that."
Sophomore Alex Obert led all scorers with four goals while freshman Casey Fleming netted his first career hat trick. Junior Balazs Erdelyi and freshman Aleksandar Petrovic added a pair of goals apiece. Junior goalkeeper Alex Malkis registered 10 saves in a complete-game effort.
The 49ers jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead less than three minutes into the contest as Pacific struggled out of the gate. Erdelyi broke LBSU's run with a direct-shot goal, but the Beach answered on their next possession to go back up by two, 3-1, at the 4:41 mark. Consecutive goals from the Tigers tied the game at 3-3, and the two teams would trade goals down the stretch as a late score gave the 49ers a 5-4 advantage after one.
Fleming opened the second quarter with a power-play goal to tie the game at 5-5, but Long Beach State answered to regain a one-goal advantage midway through the frame. The two squads went back and forth for the remainder of the period as goals from Fleming and Grady, sandwiched around a 49er score, sent the game into halftime tied at 7-7.
The third quarter saw a continuation of the back-and-forth play that dominated the first half. Obert gave Pacific its first lead of the game early in the period before consecutive goals from the 49ers put them back up by one, 9-8. The Tigers answered with back-to-back goals, one each from Petrovic and Obert, as Pacific regained a one-goal lead with three minutes left in the frame. After two scores from the Beach, the Tigers converted a power play with six seconds left to tie the game at 11-11 with eight minutes left to play.
Long Beach State dominated the fourth quarter, scoring the first three goals of the frame to take a 14-11 lead with two minutes left. Erdelyi scored a late power-play goal to pull Pacific to within two, but time ran out on the Tigers as the 49ers held on for the win.
Spencer White and Nolan McConnell paced the 49ers with three goals apiece. Goalkeeper Balint Meszaros finished with eight saves.
While the loss ends the Tigers' season, the year was not without its highlights. Pacific finished sixth at the SoCal Tournament back in September, upsetting then-No. 4 California in overtime for its first win over the Golden Bears since 1999. The Tigers also collected three conference wins, an improvement over the two they won last year, including a road sweep of UC Irvine and Long Beach State earlier this month. Erdelyi earned MPSF Player of the Week honors for the first time in his career after scoring a total of eight goals in Pacific's two wins over UCI and LBSU. Entering this week's tournament, he led the league in goals and scoring average. Malkis also paced the conference with a stellar saves-per-game average.
"Coming into this season, I wasn't sure how fast this group would pick up our tactics," Graham said. "Having said that, I thought this year was incredible in terms of the way our guys came together and bought in. We have great leadership and chemistry, and we can't wait to get back in the pool in preparation for next year."
Optimism is high around the program as both Goran Tomasevic and Balazs Szabo used their redshirt options this season and will return to a more experienced squad next year. Tomasevic was a three-time All-America selection and earned First Team All-MPSF honors last season.
No. 5 Long Beach State 14, No. 7 Pacific 12
Pacific 4 - 3 - 4 - 1 -- 12
Long Beach State 5 - 2 - 4 - 3 -- 14
Pacific - Obert 4, Fleming 3, Erdelyi 2, Petrovic 2, Grady
Long Beach State - No. McConnell 3, White 3, Mefford 2, Taylor 2, Kappos, Matulis, Rascon, Vrzic
Pacific - Malkis 10
Long Beach State - Meszaros 8