Junior driver Jacob Mercep, who leads the team with 16 goals on the season, looks for a shot in Thursday’s victory against Long Beach State. (Catherine Liang | Daily Trojan) After a weekend tournament that left the No. 5 USC men’s water polo team with a 3-1 record, the Trojans delivered a decisive 13-6 win over No. 9 Long Beach State University in their home opener last Thursday. Karaman powered a strike just past the hands of Long Beach State junior goalie Marwan Darwish after a quick pass from Daube, and the latter picked up another goal with two and a half minutes to go. Although the 49ers were able to manage one more point from Bakic just as time ran out, it was too little too late as the Trojans were well on their way to a 13-6 victory. LBSU finally returned from the dead with scores from junior attacker Nemanja Bakic and sophomore center Theodoros Pateros, but as was the theme all game, USC simply had more firepower on offense. Mercep, sophomore driver Hannes Daube, sophomore utility Alexander Lansill and redshirt junior utility Luke Karaman each tallied goals for the Trojans to take a 6-goal lead into the final quarter. “The guys were definitely more patient than in the Santa Barbara game,” Pintaric said. “That extra pause they were making made all the difference in the world.” The victory signaled a massive improvement in defensive execution after a jolting loss to No. 2 UC Santa Barbara. With nine exclusions already shared between the teams at the halftime break, head coach Marko Pintaric talked about making the most of every power-play opportunity the Trojans had. A string of fouls, turnovers and missed shots contributed to a sloppy first quarter that saw the lead change hands many times. USC carried a one-score lead into the second quarter, but quickly pulled away with 3 goals before the half to turn the tide heavily in its favor. Vlahotasios, who played all four periods and amassed 10 saves, was satisfied with the difference that USC made in honing in on their defense after allowing 13 goals to UCSB just four days earlier. Junior driver Jacob Mercep began the scoring run early in the second quarter, sinking a shot in the top left corner of the cage on a 6-on-5. Three more exclusions passed with no goals from either team until senior driver Marin Dasic charged in on a power-play. “I think our win today was not because of our offense, it was because we were playing for one another,” Vlahotasios said. “We were playing for our teammates, our brothers, and we got the stops on defense, and it put us in a position to score goals. We had two or three practices to prepare for this game. You know, we [stayed] after practice voluntarily and did extra work on Long Beach’s tendencies, and I think the result was pretty good for us.” After redshirt junior driver Luke Wyatt tallied another Trojan goal, the 49ers had gone over 12 minutes without a score, and the Trojans had taken over. USC junior goalie Vaios Vlahotasios picked up seven saves in the first half to keep LBSU in check. Early on in the fourth, it was clear that the Trojans had found their rhythm and would not allow LBSU back into the game. Mercep scored his fifth goal of the evening a little over a minute into the period and strong blocking on Long Beach State’s power-plays prevented the 49ers from scoring until three minutes later, when Bakic managed to get another one through. The Trojans will travel to UCLA this weekend for four games in three days at the 2019 Mountain Pacific Invitational.
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