LA JOLLA, Calif. - The UC San Diego women's water polo team shutout Loyola Marymount in the fourth quarter, but could not find the tying goal as the top-seeded Lions came away with a 7-6 victory in the Western Water Polo Association Championship on Sunday afternoon at Canyonview Aquatic Center.
LMU (20-9), which fell to UCSD in the 2011 conference title game, is awarded the WWPA's automatic berth to the NCAA Championships, May 11-13 at San Diego State.
Kirsten Bates brought the Tritons within one at the 5:04 mark of the fourth quarter and UCSD had a final opportunity to knot the score with 20 seconds remaining on the clock. The Tritons ran an isolation play out of a timeout for Sarah Lizotte, but the sophomore's rainbow attempt to the far post was pushed out of harm's way by LMU goalkeeper Elise Ponce with moments to spare.
"This team gave every bit and more. I am so darn proud of these gals. They poured their hearts out today against a team that is phenomenal and quite frankly could win the national championship," said UCSD head coach Brad Kreutzkamp.
Up by one early in the game, the Lions looked as though they would double their lead after earning a 6-on-5. However, UCSD came up with a field block and responded with a long outlet to Jessica Tran. Tran took a look at the cage and floated a shot over Ponce to make it 1-1 at the 3:35 mark.
The Tritons took their first lead the next trip down the pool, as Leah Gonzales collected a rebound off Lizotte's long-range attempt. Gonzales tossed it back to the right side for Lizotte, who beat the keeper to the far post to make it 2-1.
Erin Manke tied it for LMU at with 1:24 remaining, but UCSD punched back off the restart. Lizotte took one of her patented quick shots from half tank to beat an unsuspecting Ponce and make it 3-2 in favor of UCSD.
"We put a lot of pressure on [Lizotte's] shoulders. We ask her to do a lot for this team. We called her number today and I could see it in her eyes in the first two minutes that she was ready to play. She was ripping the back of the cage and I was happy to see it," said Kreutzkamp.
Lizotte led all Tritons with three goals in the game, increasing her school-record goal-total to 91 scores this year.
UCSD could not take advantage of consecutive man-advantage opportunities early in the second and LMU made the Tritons pay. After Bates hit the crossbar at the five-minute mark, LMU's Laura Lopez floated a ball inside for freshman Mackenzie Beck, who touched-in a shot past UCSD's Allie Taylor to make it 3-3.
After LMU killed-off another Triton 6-on-5, Beck scored in nearly identical fashion to make it 4-3 at the 3:43 mark. UCSD had a chance to pull even just before the break, but Tran clanged a shot off the post after LMU's Alexandra Honny and Manke were ejected on the same possesion.
UCSD stuggled to find the net with a man-advantage, despite earning 11 6-on-5 opportunities. The Tritons converted a pair of those situations, both in the second half. LMU was 1-for-5 with a man-up.
"We picked a couple weak spots that we tried to expose. And I was really happy that we executed it exactly how we wanted. We had to stay out of foul trouble and stop their really potent 6-on-5," said Kreutzkamp.
Honny scored the Lions' only 6-on-5 goal at the 6:04 mark of the third, but Lizotte once again caught Ponce off-guard on the restart, keeping the Tritons within one at 6-5.
Up 7-5, LMU's Jessica Morelos had a chance to break the game open if not for a stellar defensive play by UCSD senior Natalie Peng. Morelos did well to gain position inside on Peng, but the UCSD two-meter defender did just enough to force Morelos to spray her shot wide of the left post.
Tran once again hit the woodwork on UCSD's first possession of the final stanza, but Katherine Biehle corraled the rebound and drew an ejection to give UCSD a man-up. The Tritons tossed it around the perimeter before Tran lobbed it inside for Bates, who rose-up and flicked it past Ponce to make it 7-6.
UCSD had two more legitimate looks at goal with less than 2:45 remaining, but Lizotte's shot from six meters grazed off the crossbar and Rachel Brooks shot from four meters was blocked by Honny.
"In one-goal games, you can point to a half-dozen things [that made the difference] either way. One thing I'd have to point out is just finishing our shots. When you score six goals its hard to win a game. They had some opportunities and bar-outs, plus Ponce played great," said Kreutzkamp.
Ponce took home Tournament Most Valuable Player after recording 14 stops in the championship game. Beck led all scorers with four goals in the game and was named All-Tournament First Team.
Bates, an All-Tournament Second Team selection, registered two goals in the final. Taylor made four saves in goal. Biehle joined Lizotte on the All-Tournament First Team.
UCSD ends the season at 21-14 overall with the program's most wins in a single season since 2003.
"I think it is one of our best season's ever. I understand that we won [the WWPA tournament] last year, but we won more games this year. We were in the conference championship for the third year in a row. This is a team that is going in the right direction and I am very proud of them," said Kreutzkamp.
The Tritons will graduate five seniors at season's end- Bates, Biehle, Tran, Peng and Taylor.