Courtesy: USC Athletics
BERKELEY, CALIF. — The No. 3 USC men’s water polo team entered enemy territory and stood its ground, bolstered by a heroic seven-goal outburst by captain Max Miller, to beat host No. 2 California 13-12 in the MPSF Tournament title match today in Berkeley. It was an all-out battle to the end, featuring a disallowed USC goal, 10 tie scores and three fourth-period lead changes before the Trojans staked their claim on their second straight MPSF crown. Now 15-6 overall, the Trojans have officially punched their 19th consecutive ticket to the NCAA Tournament, which USC will host Dec. 1-3 at Uytengsu Aquatics Center.
In a word, USC’s Max Miller was an unstoppable force throughout. A hat trick by halftime had helped USC lead it 6-5 at the break. Another in the third, along with Massimo Di Martire’s third of the day, got the Trojans to be all even with the Golden Bears at 8-8 entering the fourth. That eight-minute stretch was wild, but Miller never stopped. He got USC up 10-8 with two incredible goals on USC’s first two possessions for the fourth frame. Cal fired back, and would take a 12-11 lead with 2:20 to go. Off a feed from Tom McGuire, Miller unleashed his seventh goal of the day to lock even again, and less than a minute later fellow captain Carson Kranz hit Di Martire for a 6-on-5 sizzler that put USC on top 13-12 with 1:12 on the clock. USC’s defense locked in for the duration, with McGuire nabbing a steal and goalie Bernardo Herzer coming up with a clutch takeaway before Cal clanged the bar on its last-gasp attempt to see the Trojans reign supreme as MPSF champions for the 13th time.
In all, there were nine lead changes in the game, with the tone set in the first frame. USC led first on goals from Miller and Di Martire before the Bears went back-to-back to edge ahead. Di Martire issued a half-tank bomb that leveled it at 3-3 just before the buzzer. A burning sweep shot from Miller got USC on top again in the second, and then Cal scored twice around a disallowed Trojan goal that the Bears successfully protested. Undeterred, Di Martire nabbed a steal against a Bear 6-on-5 next, and Miller leveled it again with a spike off a setup from Kranz. Kranz would convert on a 5-meter penalty shot seconds later, and USC had that 6-5 advantage for halftime. A string of whistles against the Trojans helped Cal to a 6-on-5 score and then back-to-back 5-meter penalty shots that got the hosts ahead 8-6. Cue Miller and Di Martire again, as they’d each plug in impressive goals in the final minute of the third before Reed Stemler wrapped the frame with a field block on the defensive end. Miller time picked right back up in the fourth, while Andrej Grgurevic joined the scoresheet with a spicy 6-on-5 finish at the post off a cross from Zach Bettino to lift USC ahead 11-10 at 3:42. That’s when Cal edged ahead — for all of 17 seconds — until Miller busted out his seventh to tie it, with Di Martire’s game-winner coming next before the USC defense shut the door on things for the Trojans’ major MPSF win.
NEXT: With its automatic berth secured for the coming NCAA Tournament, USC awaits the release of the 2023 bracket later tonight (Nov. 19) on NCAA.com to learn of its opening opponent for the competition to come at USC’s own Uytengsu Aquatics Center Dec. 1-3.
– This was USC’s 13th MPSF Tournament championship, and the fifth time that the Trojans have won back-to-back titles.
– With a career-high goals today, SR Max Miller continues to lead USC in scoring, now with 42 goals this season.
– Miller also leads the team with 14 multiple-goal games this year.
– MIller’s seven-goal outing was the most goals since 2021, when Jacob Mercep recorded two seven-goal efforts that season.
– With four goals today, GS Massimo Di Martire joins Miller in having scored in a team-high 18 different games this season.
– With 10 saves, RS FR goalie Bernardo Herzer recorded his eighth double-digit save effort.
– USC’s win today snapped a six-game losing skid to Cal, with the Trojans’ last win over the Golden Bears coming in the 2021 MPSF Tournament.
– USC is now 70-70-2 all-time against Cal since 1979.
2023 MPSF TOURNAMENT
#3 USC 13, #2 California 12
Nov. 19, 2023 | Spieker Aquatics Complex (Berkeley, Calif.)
USC 3 – 3 – 2 – 5 = 13
CAL 3 – 2 – 3 – 4 = 12
SAVES: Bernardo Herzer (USC) 10, Adrien Weinberg (CAL) 10.
Courtesy: Cal Athletics
BERKELEY – After forcing a turnover with 15 seconds left, the No. 2 California men’s water polo team had one final chance to equalize in Sunday’s MPSF Championship game against No. 3 USC. But the Golden Bears fell 13-12 after their final attempt went off the crossbar at the buzzer.
Cal (21-5) had beaten the Trojans (15-6) six straight times entering Sunday’s final, but USC snapped that streak with two unanswered goals in the final minutes of the game.
Max Casabella led the Bears with five goals, scoring at least once in every quarter. His fifth of the day tied the game 11-11 with 3:06 left in the fourth. On Cal’s next possession, Albert Ponferrada snuck a shot inside the near right post, capping a 4-1 Bears run to put them ahead by one.
After USC regained the lead, Nikolaos Papanikolaou picked up his third steal of the day with 35 seconds left. Coming out of a timeout, the Bears tried to get the ball to Casabella, but he wasn’t able to get a hold of the pass. Seconds later, the Trojans let the ball slip out of bounds, giving Cal one last chance. But Ponferrada’s final shot at the buzzer went just high.
Ponferrada was one of four Bears to score multiple goals. Papanikolaou put two away in the first period, giving him 247 in his career to move him past Johnny Hooper for No. 2 all-time at Cal. Papanikolaou also drew seven exclusions.
Neither team led by more than one in a tightly contested first 16 minutes. Nik Mirkovic highlighted the opening half with one of the most remarkable goals of the season, beating the shot clock with a backhand shot from near the middle of the pool to give Cal a 5-4 lead with 2:45 left in the second period.
On Sunday night, the Bears received an at-large bid for the 2023 NCAA Tournament, which is set for Dec. 1-3 at USC’s Uytengsu Aquatics Center. Cal will face No. 15 Fordham in the quarterfinal round on Dec. 1 at 4 p.m. PT.
No. 3 USC 13, No. 2 California 12
Cal 3 2 3 4 – 12
USC 3 3 2 5 – 13
Cal Goals: Max Casabella 5, Nikolaos Papanikolaou 2, Albert Ponferrada 2, Jake Howerton 2, Nik Mirkovic
USC Goals: Max Miller 7, Massimo Di Martire 4, Carson Kranz, Andrej Grgurevic
Cal Saves: Adrian Weinberg 10
USC Saves: Bernardo Herzer 10