Host Crimson Remain Unbeaten; St. Francis Enjoys Big Comeback @ Day One of Harvard Invitational

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It's never wise to underestimate Harvard coach Ted Minnis and his Crimson—especially at home. Photo Courtesy: Gil Talbot

CAMBRIDGE, MA. It was a day of great competition at Blodgett Pool on the Harvard campus, with the host Crimson scoring two victories—including a sudden-death overtime scare against Pomona-Pitzer—to run a season-opening winning streak to 16.

The biggest winner Saturday may have been St. Francis, down starters Will Lapkin and Cody-Alexander Jones due to injuries, the Terriers found themselves down five goals to Bucknell early in the fourth quarter before a stunning comeback produced a 16-14 win. It capped a 2-0 day for the Brooklynites, who rebounded nicely from a decisive loss last weekend to Northeast Water Polo Conference foe Princeton.

The Crimson (16-0; 5-0 NWPC) opened their day against a George Washington squad (15-5; 5-1 MAWPC) that two days earlier had seen the return of Atakan Destici. The Colonial’s best player had spent the first month of the season nursing a broken finger and only returned to the line-up on Thursday, getting a goal and an assist in a 13-7 win over Johns Hopkins.

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Atakan Destici. Photo Courtesy: George Washington Athletics

In Saturday’s action, the senior from Istanbul was instrumental in rallying his team against a Crimson squad that has rarely been challenged this season. Down by three goals at intermission, Destici and teammate Andrew Mavis (four goals) helped the Colonial draw even in the final period. Mavis fought off Harvard defenders to beat Crimson goalie Noah Hodge at the 6:35 mark. On defense, GW fought off a double exclusion, then Destici narrowed the deficit to one with a power play goal at the five-minute mark, his fourth tally of the game.

When Gabriele Simonti scored at 2:41 on a blast that just beat the shot clock, the Colonials had climbed all the way back into a 13-all time. But there’s a reason that Harvard has not lost this season. Their depth is considerable, but their will to win more so. After exchanging possessions, with 43 seconds remaining, Bruno Snow scored his only goal of the game—a strike that handcuffed GW keeper Matt Taylor. The Crimson then fought off a last-gasp power play by the visitors to keep their record spotless thus far in 2019. For Ted Minnis’ squad, Charlie Owens and Dennis Blyashov tallied four scores apiece, and Hodge collected 11 saves.

Pomona-Pitzer falls just short of huge upset

In the tournament’s nightcap, a four-goal advantage entering the final period was not enough to stave off a determined Sage Hen squad, that got five goals from Dylan Elliot, none so big as a score with eight seconds remaining that knotted the score at 14. After the teams traded goals in the first overtime period, Harvard held a one-goal lead late in the second overtime period. This time, it was Sam Sasaki to scored with eight seconds, hitting on a on a five-meter penalty shot to force sudden death.

Blyashov, who had again had four scores, finished off Pomona with a blast 30 seconds into sudden death, ending the Sage Hens upset hopes and keeping his squad perfect on the day and the season. Also tallying for times for the Crimson was Jackson Enright, who also found the back of the net in OT.

For the game Hens of Pomona (12-9; 5-2 SCIAC), Sam Saskai had three scores while his twin brother Ben had two. After two losses Saturday, including a contentious 10-6 loss to Brown earlier in the day, Head Coach Alex Rodriguez’s squad will look to break into the win column this morning against La Salle. The Sage Hens will also face DIII rival MIT in the tournament’s final match, and if this is anything like the closing match Saturday, it should be a thrilling preview of what might take place in early December at the first-ever DIII National Championship, where the top two teams for the East and a pair from the West will clash.

Terriers come up big late

Comebacks were the order of the day, but only one team was able to surmount a multi-goal deficit and emerge with a win. That accolade belonged to St. Francis Brooklyn (13-6; 3-2 NWPC), which came into the Invite nursing significant injuries and a slump that saw them drop consecutive matches to Northeast Water Polo Conference foes Harvard and Princeton. Despite missing  Jones and Lapkin, the Terriers took care of business early, pasting a 21-2 loss on La Salle. In an afternoon match-up against old foe Bucknell (14-3; 6-1 MAWPC), Head Coach Bora Dimitrov’s squad was down a goal after the first period, then allowed the Bison to exploit their interior defense in the second, drawing multiple five-meter penalties. Bucknell ran off four-straight goals before SFC responded, and by the intermission the Brooklynites were down 9-4 and listing badly. Bucknell star Rade Joksimovic already had four goals—three converting five-meter penalties—as he and his teammates appeared to score at will, both from the perimeter and inside.

The third frame was indicative of the revival to come. The teams traded goals, as St. Francis’ Ivan Stefanovic netted two to offset a pair of goals by Bucknell’s Jared Stanley. Still, the Bison enjoyed a 12-8 lead at period’s end and were perhaps looking ahead to a match-up Sunday with the host Crimson. If that were the case, it turned out to be a mistake, as Stefanovic led a fourth-quarter comeback the likes of which SFC fans haven’t seen since 2013, the last time the Terriers advanced to an NCAA tournament.

The Bison’s Cullen Jacuzzi connected on a skip shot past Terrier keeper Gianmarco Serio to increase his team’s lead to five goals, but then SFC rallied. William Simpson hit a shot in front of the Bucknell cage, then Matheus Santos scored at the six-minute mark. A goal from three meters by Terrier sharpshooter Dominik Hevesi made the score 13-11, but Bucknell’s Benece Fazekas momentarily slowed the comeback with a five-meter strike at the five-minute mark.

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St. Francis’ Matheus Santos had three goals—including the game winner—against Bucknell on Saturday. Photo Courtesy: Joseph Gomez

That’s when Stefanovic got hot, with back to back goals to cut the Bison lead to a single goal. When Hevesi hammered a cross-cage strike past goalie Adrien Tousot, the score was knotted at 14. But not for long. Santos came up big after a Terrier time-out, scoring at 1:55 to give Brooklyn its first lead of the game. For good measure, Vladimir Mickic hit on a beautiful backhand shot 30 seconds later—his fourth score of the contest—completing the St. Francis comeback and sealing a 16-14 win.

East Meets West in Santa Clara

The road for SFC does not get easier today; this morning they’ll face George Washington, a team they’ve beaten twice already this season, albeit with Destici on the bench. They finish the day with a match against New York City rival Wagner, then rest up for a trip to Santa Clara next weekend for the Julian Fraser Memorial Tournament. Joining them there will be familiar foes Brown, Harvard, Iona, Princeton—as well as Bucknell—as they all travel West to test their mettle against California foes.

For now, Dimitrov and his players must be thrilled to find the reserve to overcome injuries, and a talented opponent. at a critical juncture in the season—just before their final push for conference seeding in November.

2 comments

  1. avatar
    Connor T

    Day 2?