The play drawn up was run without a hitch. Jacob Murphy had the ball in front of the USC goal, seemingly ready to tie the game up late in the fourth quarter.
Then, in an instant lost in splash between a couple of players, Murphy didn’t have the ball anymore; USC goalie Joel Dennerley did.
The last missed chance synopsized the rest of the game for the Bruins, and just like that, the Trojans ran out the clock. The steal sealed a 9-8 win for USC over UCLA in the final of the SoCal Tourament Sunday night at Spieker Aquatics Center.
Errors defined the game for No. 2 UCLA (8-2). An offense that, throughout the year, had fired on all cylinders was left with a long list of questions after the loss to No. 1 USC (15-0).
How did the team miss so many chances within two meters? How did the team misfire on 6-on-5 opportunities? How did two players miss penalty shots?
“(If) we could have come out with three to four more goals, it would have been a different game,” said Murphy, a redshirt senior center and team captain.
“Me, in particular, I didn’t finish.”
Each of the last three matchups between UCLA and USC ““ the final of the 2009 NCAA, 2010 NorCal and 2010 SoCal tournaments ““ has seen the Bruins fall short by one goal. This time, it was the last play in particular that stung.
After USC freshman Nikola Vavic fired a long-distance goal to give the Trojans a one-goal lead with 35 seconds to play, UCLA coach Adam Wright deferred to associate coach Adam Krikorian.
The play Krikorian drew up didn’t stray far from UCLA’s game plan to get the ball into the center position. But Murphy couldn’t hold on to the pass as the defense converged ““ something that could have easily been blown dead as an ordinary foul.
“I thought we could have got a call at home,” Wright said before quickly changing his tone.
“We played afraid, and I don’t know why we’re afraid. We’re not defending anything, they’re defending something, they’re the champions.”
The loss spoiled what was a brilliant run by freshman goalkeeper James Hartshorne, who saw his first collegiate playing time after UCLA’s top two goalkeepers ““ Matt Rapacz and Andrew Mesesan ““ went down with injuries.
His first start came in UCLA’s easy opening-round win over Princeton on Saturday morning. Mesesan took over for the Saturday afternoon game against Pacific, but Wright surprised everyone by starting the true freshman Sunday against No. 5 UCI and USC later in the day.
“Friday night, (Wright and I) talked, and he was like, “˜All right, if you’re ready, let’s give it a go,’” Hartshorne said.
It was quite the go for a goalie who wasn’t expected to play at all this year. Hartshorne blocked 16 shots in the cage against the Anteaters and stayed strong against the Trojans, unfazed by the fact that UCLA was down by as many as three goals early to the No. 1 team in the country.
“A big thing as a goalie, you’ve just got to (have) no emotion,” Hartshorne said. “That one’s gone, get the next one.”
Wright didn’t second-guess his decision.
“If it wasn’t for Hartshorne, we’d be down a lot more,” Wright said. “He saved our butt a bunch of times.”
Getting to the title game ““ against No. 1 USC, no less ““ was just what UCLA wanted. But after another bitter loss full of mistakes, the Bruins will have to face another round of introspection.
“I have full confidence that we can come out and beat this team,” Murphy said. “This team is not that great. It just takes a little extra effort on our part.”