No. 3-seeded UCLA entered the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament the self-proclaimed underdogs. They were going at it with nothing to lose, and, indeed, they didn’t lose at all.
UCLA beat six-seed Pepperdine, two-seed Cal and finally top seed USC, all in overtime, for the conference title and a bid to next weekend’s NCAA Tournament.
“The guys are excited, as their coach I’m happy,” coach Adam Wright said. “They do the work, I’m along for the ride.”
The Bruins are 4-0 in overtime games.
USC and UCLA met on Sunday night after a Trojan win at Spieker just a week before.
UCLA pulled ahead early, carrying 5-2 into halftime. In the second half, USC got its offense together, and regulation ended 7-7.
Freshman Paul Reynolds and sophomore Aimone Barabino scored for the Bruins in overtime, but USC also scored twice, bringing on sudden death. Sophomore utility Cristiano Mirarchi buried the ball in the net to the tune of a wild celebration from the Bruin bench.
“That was emotional,” Reynolds said. “We keep playing like a team and we look good.”
Against Pepperdine on Friday, regulation ended tied 4-4. Redshirt senior attacker Cullen Hennessey scored with 10 seconds to go in overtime, securing the win.
“(Overtime) is a new game… we stuck with it, and got the ball to Cullen,” Wright said.
Saturday’s semifinal against Cal was riddled with dispute. The primary controversy was over whether Mirarchi was punched in the face by a Cal player.
“We’ll look at video, I think there was some interaction,” Wright said.
The Bruins were up 6-5 with a minute left, but Cal pulled it into overtime on a penalty shot. UCLA appeared dumbfounded by the penalty call.
“(California) had opportunities there that weren’t, well, I don’t know what to say about that,” Hennessey said carefully.
Reynolds scored the game winner, one of his four goals this weekend.
“It felt good to contribute, but it was my teammates getting me open,” Reynolds said.
“We didn’t want them to beat us in our pool, that required sharp defense,” Samuels added.
UCLA looks toward Berkeley, where they join Princeton, UC San Diego and USC to compete for the national title.
“I couldn’t be prouder. … We played for each other,” Wright said. “It was an absolute team effort.”
“We are happy,” Mirarchi said. “But what matters is next weekend.”