T-No. 14 Water Polo Downs No. 9 Pacific, 8-7
April 7, 2017
SAN DIEGO -
T-No. 14 San Diego State was outstanding on defense, received a career effort from goalkeeper Kate McDonnell and saw Caroline Israels score the game-winner in an 8-7 victory over ninth-ranked Pacific on Friday afternoon at Aztec Aquaplex. The win moved SDSU to 14-12 overall and 5-0 in the Golden Coast Conference, while UOP fell to 14-8 and 3-1 in league action.
“Coming off our Hawaii trip with three tough losses, we had a short window to prepare,” head coach Carin Crawford said. “In a way, it made us more focused in practice and we knew we had to get right down to business since we had an important game featuring the only two unbeaten teams in conference.
“Our defense was rock solid despite making it interesting in the third by giving up our lead and letting them tie it. We held Kyra Christmas, their leading goal scorer to zero goals even though she still affected the game. Overall, it was a great total team effort, but it came down to great defense.”
As big of an impact as the defense had on the game, the Aztecs set the tone early with offense, scoring on the afternoon’s first possession. After Makena Magro won the opening sprint, the first of four successful efforts, Ioli Benekou found herself with the ball at the top of the pool and fired a skip shot past Tigers goalkeeper Alexis Hollinrake.
Pacific answered immediately on the next possession off a lob from Mariana Duarte, but Hannah Carrillo pushed the Aztecs out in front off a cross-pool feed from Benekou on a power play with 5:42 left. UOP, however, leveled the score off another lob shot, but after is when the SDSU defense turned it up a couple notches.
On back-to-back defensive possessions, the Aztecs got field blocks from Benekou and Alyssa Diacono and held the Tigers scoreless for the final 4:38 of the frame. San Diego State, meanwhile, finished the first quarter ahead, 3-2, after Carrillo scored her second of the game on a cross-cage goal off a cross-pool pass from Magro.
In the second period, the Aztecs continued to dominate on defense all while being able to extend their lead to 5-2. Within the first minute, SDSU had its fourth goal of the day when, with the shot clock winding down, Magro found Benekou, who fired a shot that split Hollinrake’s hands. A minute later, Diacono fired a shot from set and grabbed her own rebound for a put-back goal to move in front by three. The Aztecs nearly kept the Tigers from scoring for the first three minutes of the quarter, but Rachel Krieger ended Pacific’s drought with 5:34 left and the score remained 5-3 in favor of SDSU through halftime.
The third quarter is when things got interesting as the Aztec offense went quiet and the Tigers were able to score a pair of goals. Duarte scored her second of the game with 5:22 left and the equalizer came off the hand of Viktoria Tamas as the clock dipped just under four minutes. When the quarter horn sounded, the teams found themselves locked in a 5-5 tie.
The quality of defense remained at a high level well into the fourth period. Unfortunately for the Aztecs, they allowed Pacific to take its first lead of the afternoon with 4:41 remaining when Duarte attempted a long shot that ended up being just out of the reach of McDonnell.
Trailing 6-5, San Diego State got the stops it needed on defense, which gave it plenty of opportunities on the other side of the pool. After one of its stops, SDSU had the ball in transition where Diacono found an open Lizzy Bilz from point-blank range and the junior from San Diego tied the score with 3:11 left.
Israels, the Aztecs’ leading scorer and who was held scoreless for the first three-plus quarters, then may have had the play of the game, stealing the ball and later scoring into the upper left corner on a power play to give SDSU a 7-6 lead. The senior All-American was at it again 29 seconds later, scoring on a vicious shot to make it an 8-6 game.
Pacific closed to within one, thanks to a Viktoria Szmodics goal with 41 seconds left. San Diego State, however, ran out the clock on its final two possessions and squashed the Tigers’ last-ditch effort with six seconds left to remain unbeaten in league action.
McDonnell, the backbone of the San Diego State defensive unit, finished with a career-high 16 saves, many of them spectacular. “I can’t say enough about Kate and how she adjusted throughout the game,” Crawford said. “They were scoring on lobs and taking off-speed shots early and she adjusted and started pulling them down.”
San Diego State, which is 24-0 all-time in Golden Coast Conference games, will return to action on Tuesday, April 11, when it plays host to CSU Bakersfield at 2 p.m. PT. Admission is free at Aztec Aquaplex.