STOCKTON, Calif. – Stanford scored six times in the opening period, shell-shocking No. 3 seed UCLA then holding the lead for an 11-10 semifinal win Saturday in Stockton.
The Cardinal (21-4), the No. 2 seed in the draw and winners of a season-high 11 straight games, will go for its first MPSF Tournament title since 2004 when it faces No. 4 seed USC Sunday at 3 p.m. Sunday’s title game can be seen at the MPSF Tournament Central page.
UCLA (28-3) will face host and top seed Pacific in the Third-Place Game at 1:30 p.m.
The win also puts Stanford in a very favorable position for one of the three available spots in next weekend’s NCAA Championship at Avery Aquatic Center. With three spots available among four teams (Stanford, USC, UCLA, Pacific) which all own wins against one another from the regular season, a victory Sunday would give Stanford the MPSF’s automatic bid while a top-two finish at the tournament would make a strong case for one of the two at-large bids.
The six-team field for the NCAA Championship, set for Dec. 5, 7, and 8 at Avery Aquatic Center, will be announced Sunday night between 8-8:30 p.m. Fans can check the Twitter accounts of Stanford men’s water polo (@StanfordMWP) and Stanford Athletics (@GoStanford), as well as www.gostanford.com, for the breaking news.
Alex Bowen led the Cardinal with five goals Saturday, while Bret Bonanni netted three goals, Forrest Watkins two and Nick Hoversten added one. In the cage, Drew Holland made nine saves.
Along with the six-goal opening frame, Stanford helped its cause Saturday with five 6-on-5 goals, taking advantage of 13 exclusions drawn against the Bruins. Bonanni scored one of those power-play goals with 4:27 to go in the first period, bringing the Cardinal lead to 3-1. He and Watkins split the Cardinal’s first four goals of the game, sandwiching a goal from UCLA’s Chris Wendt.
Hoversten netted his goal at the 1:23 mark and Bowen got his first with 21 seconds remaining to finish off a dominant opening eight minutes.
UCLA would score the first two goals of the second frame to cut the Cardinal lead to three at 6-3, but Bonanni would convert on another 6-on-5 situation to up it to four at 7-3. The defenses would hold for the final four minutes of the half, leaving the Cardinal in front by four at the break.
Bowen scored 55 seconds into the second half to get the lead back to five, and the teams traded goals twice more as the Cardinal kept stifling any UCLA attempt to rally. The Bruins did manage to squeeze out a pair of goal either side of the third-period break, as Ryder Roberts and Aimone Barbino brought the Bruins within three at 10-7 with 7:37 to play.
Yet it was another 6-on-5 situation which lifted the Cardinal, as Bowen converted this time for his fifth goal with 6:03 to go. UCLA scored with 4:53 to play to pull to within 11-8, but Holland and the Cardinal defense held strong over the next few minutes.
The defense held for over three minutes until Cristiano Mirarcho scored with 1:31 to play, then again with 33 seconds to go. But by that time the Cardinal was able to use all of the 30-second shot clock, leaving the Bruins deep in their own end with just three seconds remaining. The Bruins could not get a shot off in time and the Cardinal held on for the key victory.
UCLA – 1 3 2 4 = 10
Stanford – 6 1 3 1 = 11
Stanford Goal Scorers: Bowen 5, Bonanni 3, Watkins 2, Hoversten
UCLA Goal Scorers: Mirarchi 3, P. Reynolds 2, Roberts 2, Barabino, L. Reynolds 1, Wendt
Goalie Saves: Holland 9 (S); Danner 8 (UCLA)