Drew Holland recorded a career-high 20 saves and B.J. Churnside scored the game-winner with 41 seconds left to lift the Stanford men's water polo team to an important 11-10 victory over top-ranked USC in a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation match on Saturday at Avery Aquatic Center.
The Cardinal (2-0 in the MPSF, 16-2 overall) has beaten two consecutive top-ranked teams to keep itself in the national conversation.
"It's a big win, " Stanford coach John Vargas said. "The top teams are close and this was just our second conference game. There is still a long way to go."
The Cardinal has split with UCLA and California and the win over the Trojans, who have split with the Bruins and Bears, gives Stanford an edge heading into Sunday's game at UC Santa Barbara, which along with Long Beach State, is also a top contender.
"We have a ton of big games left," said Churnside. "We can't dwell on a good win."
Stanford was ranked No. 1 in the preseason national poll but entered Saturday's game ranked third. The Cardinal beat then- No. 1 UCLA for third place at last weekend's SoCal Tournament.
USC, the defending national champion, tested Holland early and often, pelting the All-American goalie with 16 shots in the first half, though only two found the back of the net. All by design.
"We worked on funneling this week," Churnside said, "and Drew does a good job telling us what he wants."
"Drew is such a mature athlete in and out of the water," Vargas commented. "You know that he's athletic and does a great job, but how he handles himself in the goal and how he talks to his teammates. He's one of the best I've ever had. Stanford is known for great goalies and Drew is next in line."
Meanwhile, every time USC tied the game in the fourth quarter, Churnside had an answer. The junior driver from Orange scored three of his four goals in the game's final five minutes, breaking deadlocks at 8-8, 9-9 and finally 10-10.
The Trojans never led in this one, but tied the game on five occasions -- twice in the first quarter and three times in the fourth. With 0:59 remaining in the third, Stanford's Bret Bonanni converted a penalty to match Stanford's largest lead of the morning, 8-5. But Rex Butler scored for USC (16-3, 2-1 MPSF) at the buzzer and then Nick Bell opened up the fourth with scores at 6:30 and 5:35 to bring the Trojans back even, 8-8, for the first time since early in the second quarter.
"I kept telling our team that it was still our game," Vargas said. "Our game plan had been successful and we were going to stick to it. We made a couple of little corrections, but we were good to go."
"We knew it was a big game coming in and that they weren't going to go down without a fight," Churnside added. "They started to chip away at us a bit so it was really even in the fourth, but we . . . expected a little adversity to hit. We wanted to stay positive and not be phased by it and that's what we did."
With the game in the balance, that's when Churnside went to work. Conner Cleary earned an ejection of USC's Mihajlo Milicevic to give the Cardinal a 6-on-5 opportunity. Churnside gathered the ball in the middle of the pool, slid to his right to change the angle on McQuin Baron and deposited his shot to the right of the Trojans' 6-foot-9 goalkeeper with 5:00 left.
Bell scooted one right around the near post for USC with 3:11 to go and again tie the game, 9-9. With 2:25 on the clock, Churnside received a pass from Bonanni, took a hit from the right, one from the left and then lobbed his shot into the top right corner of the cage. The off-speed attempt froze Baron and inched Stanford out in front, 10-9.
Butler answered from distance with 1:13 remaining to set the stage for Churnside one more time. The Cardinal's eighth man-up chance gave the junior some room from the center spot. Some shot fakes and a slide of his body gave Churnside a lane and his game-winning rocket when low and left past Baron with 0:41 on the clock.
"If you look back to the goals, they were on 6-on-5 and there was so much that went into it other than my shot at the end," Churnside said of his impressive fourth quarter. "Whether it was a pass, a good drive or good ball positioning, it was the entire team coming together and it just happened to be my shot."
Grant Stein made a last-ditch effort for USC, but the left-handed shot pounded off the crossbar with 0:10 left, allowing Stanford to secure win.
While Churnside did his damage late, Adam Abdulhamid got the Cardinal off on the right foot in the early going. Alex Bowen scored Stanford's first at 6:40 in the opening period, but then three of the team's next four goals would be put home by the redshirt sophomore. Abdulhamid's run at 1:44 in the first and 6:54 and 3:35 in the second was only broken up by Bonanni's first of the game at 4:23 in the second quarter.
Abdulhamid's third and final goal gave Stanford a 5-2 edge, only matched by the later 8-5 lead which precipitated the back-and-fourth final frame.
--Stanford Athletics contributed