At the tail end of a grueling eight-game stretch against ranked opponents, the No. 11-ranked UC San Diego men’s water polo team (9–7) lost at home on Oct. 6 to No. 7-ranked California State University, Long Beach (15–4) by a score of 13–11. Redshirt senior utility player Calder Hilde-Jones and redshirt junior utility player Manuel Augusto each had 3 goals in the loss, in which the Tritons never led.
UCSD entered Wednesday’s match after winning 2 of 4 contests in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) Invitational in Berkeley, and losing a close match to the then-No. 20 Air Force Academy on Oct. 1; meanwhile, Long Beach State came to Canyonview Aquatic Center on a four-game win streak.
That momentum for LBSU seemed to carry into the opening period of play on Wednesday evening, as Long Beach’s Matt Morris scored 3 goals in the first 4 minutes of play to put the Beach up 3–0; his second and third goals skipped past UCSD’s redshirt sophomore keeper Alexander Nemeth from outside the right post. With 2:17 left in the first period, an interference call on Nemeth left UCSD without a keeper, and Long Beach capitalized just 2 seconds later with a goal from Alika Naone to go up 4–0.
After taking a much-needed timeout, the Tritons finally got on the board with 1:54 to go in the first quarter, as redshirt sophomore utility player Kaden Likins slotted the ball past the Beach keeper. Augusto made it 4–2 just 46 seconds later with a powerful strike into the top left corner, and UCSD finally seemed to have some momentum. Long Beach pushed the lead back up to 3 with less than a minute to go in the period, but Likins struck again on the powerplay with a shot over the Beach keeper’s head to end the first period 5–3.
Unfortunately for UCSD, they would never narrow the lead to less than 2. Long Beach scored the first 2 goals of the second quarter to bring the lead up to 7–3 with 4:29 remaining in the half. The Tritons caught a break with 3:59 to go in the quarter, drawing a penalty that Augusto sent cleanly into the bottom left corner. But Long Beach State would again respond well, with 2 more goals in the latter part of the quarter taking the lead to 9–4.
Seconds later, Hilde-Jones scored his first of the night with 1:17 remaining in the second period, creating a shot from up close with 2 defenders on him, and the half ended with the Tritons down 9–5; the goal extended an impressive scoring streak for Hilde-Jones, who has scored in all 16 UCSD matches this season, with the last 8 being multiple-goal games.
The Tritons and the Beach traded goals down the stretch in the third quarter, a balance Long Beach was clearly much more pleased to maintain, with Triton goals coming from redshirt freshman utility player Miles Wilson and Hilde-Jones. With 1:33 to go in the third, the Tritons cut the lead to 11–8 on a powerplay goal from redshirt junior utility player Vedran Latkovic, and UCSD entered the final quarter with the match not yet out of reach.
The Tritons’ comeback hopes got a boost less than a minute into the fourth period when Augusto stole the ball, started a fast break, and found Wilson down the right flank. Wilson lobbed the ball inside to Hilde-Jones, once again heavily marked in front of the goal, and he finished off his hat trick to cut the deficit to its lowest point since the opening minutes of the match, 11–9.
Long Beach State got the lead back to 3 with 5:19 remaining, but Augusto returned the favor with 4:21 to go on a powerplay goal, making it 12–10. Once again, though, Long Beach managed to extend their lead to 3 on a powerplay resulting from a Likins foul; yet again, the Tritons narrowed the deficit to 2 when Latkovic made a nice fake to freeze the Beach keeper before beating him with the shot, getting his second goal of the game and making it 13–11 with 2:34 to go. But any comeback opportunity for UCSD soon fizzled out, and Latkovic’s strike would end up being the final score of the game.
Both Augusto and Hilde-Jones had hat tricks for the Tritons, and Augusto added 2 steals and 2 assists for a nice all-around night. Redshirt freshman Max Abravanel led UCSD with 3 assists. As a team, the Tritons shot 11-for-36 (.306) compared to 13-for-30 (.433) for Long Beach; UCSD converted 4 of 12 power plays, while the Beach scored on 6 of 10.
“I was pleased that we never quit, I was pleased that we rallied… But we just didn’t convert when we needed to. It’s a disappointing loss to a No. 7 team that’s capable of beating anybody,” said head coach Denny Harper, now in the 42nd year of his illustrious coaching career, to UCSD Athletics. “The thing for us that is resonating the most is that we gave up four goals to start the game — you can’t do that.”
The Tritons will try to end their short skid with three upcoming conference home games against unranked opponents, against whom they are undefeated this season, beginning Friday, Oct. 15 against California Baptist University.
Photo courtesy of Derrick Tuskan / UC San Diego Athletics