By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
There were too many heroic moments to simply say the Stanford men's water polo team lost, 8-7, to visiting USC in the championship match of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament on Sunday.
The long, grueling contest came to end when Trojans' freshman Nikola Vavic found a sliver of daylight between Stanford goalie Brian Pingree and the near post and let loose with the winning score a minute into the third sudden-death overtime.
That likely ended the season for the fourth-ranked Cardinal (17-8), which needed to win the tournament to advance into next weekend's NCAA Final Four in Berkeley.
"The guys played hard," Stanford coach John Vargas said. "They all did a good job."
An emotional Vargas understated the way Stanford approached the must-win contest. It was a determined effort, with spectacular shots and split-second decisions.
When it was all over and Vargas had congratulated the defending national champion Trojans, he simply turned and walked away, head down. He carefully removed his jacket and folded it up before disappearing around a corner to collect his thoughts.
Alex Pulido, one of three seniors who played their game for the Cardinal, remained in the pool for a while, taking a couple of final practice shots as mild ripples rolled leisurely across a calm surface.
Sage Wright and Jeffrey Schwimer also played their final game. Wright tied the match by converting a shot with seven seconds left in the second overtime, giving Stanford another chance in sudden death.
Schwimer scored with a 4:45 left in the fourth quarter to give Stanford its first lead of the game at 5-4.
"Sage is special," Vargas said. "To come back after a knee injury forced him to take a year off, it was a great sacrifice for him. Pulido and Schwimer started just about every game all four years here. We'll miss those guys. They certainly elevated the program."
Stanford beat the Trojans, 5-3, earlier in the season, ending USC's 18-game winning streak and putting a stop to a Trojans' 17-game winning streak over the Cardinal.
Stanford beat top-ranked California, 8-6, in Saturday's semifinal match just for the chance to play USC.
Jacob Smith led the Cardinal with two goals. His 5-meter penalty shot tied the match at 6 in the first of two mandatory overtime period. Wright followed with his goal in the second OT, sending it to the first sudden-death period.
Stanford nearly won the match in the second overtime, when a pool-length shot as time expired nearly went into the cage when the USC goalie inexplicably came out too far.
Kayla Pedersen had 19 points, 12 rebounds and a team-high five assists as third-ranked Stanford downed visiting Texas, 93-78, in a nonconference game Saturday.
Nnemkadi Ogwumike added 22 points on 10-of-14 shooting and seven rebounds as the Cardinal (5-0) won its 49th consecutive home game, the second-longest streak in school history. It was also coach Tara VanDerveer's 798th career win.
The next chance for No. 799 comes Sunday, Dec. 12 when Fresno State visits Stanford for a 1 p.m. tipoff.
"I honestly don't think about it at all," VanDerveer said. "I'm focused on this team, this game and what kind of improvements we can make. I'm enjoying this team."
Freshman Chiney Ogwumike and Sarah Boothe each contributed 14 points and combined for another 10 rebounds.
"I think you saw toughness out of us and the will to preserve," Pedersen said. "Other people stepped up. People are learning their roles and how to play with each other. We're a lot more confident now."
Joslyn Tinkle's 3-pointer with 2:03 left in the first half gave Stanford a 47-29 lead. The 16th-ranked Longhorns (4-1) scored the next 10 points before Pedersen sank a pair of free throws to give the Cardinal a 49-39 halftime lead.
Texas drew within six points early in the second half before Stanford began to draw away and eventually build a 23-point advantage.
"This was a good game for us," VanDerveer said. "We came out with a lot of young players and struggled through some foul trouble. We can learn a lot from this game."