LOS ANGELES – In one of the most significant victories in program history, the No. 4 Arizona State University water polo team upset No. 3 USC in the opening round of the 2014 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championships, 10-9, in sudden death overtime in Los Angeles, Calif.
In a dramatic turn over events in the decisive frame, freshman Izabella Chiappini got behind the entire Trojan defense (goalie included) for an easy tap in on a pool-length pass from goalkeeper E.B. Keeve with 1:29 remaining in sudden death to advance the Sun Devils into the semifinals and provide the program with just its second victory over USC in school history.
Chiappini finished the game with four goals while Keeve was absolutely phenomenal again, logging 17 saves in the contest in addition to the game winning steal, assist and turnover that followed a game-saving block on the prior Trojan possession.
Ao Gao also had four goals in the game, matching a career high and setting a new season’s best mark as the two-time Olympian continued to show her talents shine under the lights of the big stage in the big games.
The Sun Devils improved to 15-8 on the season with the victory and the win was more notable as, despite ASU’s No. 4 rankings nationally, the Sun Devils were the No. 6 seed in the tournament. ASU is now 3-1 this season in games decided by a single goal. The win was significant as it all but guarantees the ASU a ticket to its first NCAA Championship appearance in program history.
Chiappini’s game-winner came on the heels of a flurry of action to start out the sudden death period. USC won the opening sprint, giving them the first opportunity to put the game away but Keeve kept the Sun Devils in the game with a one-handed save – one that would prove to be her final save of the game.
On the ensuing Sun Devil possession, Chiappini turned the ball over to Eike Daube, who had a fast-breaking Trojan down the pool behind the last ASU defender. Daube’s pass soared just long though and a very cognizant Keeve left the cage to grab the free ball.
With the momentum of the swimmers shifting back to the other end of the pool, USC’s goalie Flora Bolonyai came out to help cover an open Alkistis Benokou down the pool. The Olympian got tangled up with a teammate and Benekou as she worked her way back to the cage, allowing Keeve to soar a pool-length lob over all three players to a wide-open Chiappini who had nothing in between her and a Sun Devil victory but air and water.
ASU fell behind early and found itself in a 3-1 hole following the first quarter of the game. Keeve and Chiappini single-handedly led ASU back though as Chiappini scored three-straight goals in the second period while Keeve had six saves in the frame to give ASU a 4-3 lead heading into halftime – its first lead against USC this season.
It was a back-and-forth affair from there with Gao scoring two goals in the second half, the second of which put ASU up 8-7 with 1:26 to go. USC poured on the pressure to even things up and took advantage of a Anna Kertes exclusion with five seconds left to even things up on a goal by Kaleigh Gilchrist with two seconds left.
Gao scored her fourth of the game with 59 seconds left in the first over time session but the Trojans evened things on a Daube goal with 2:41 left in the second overtime and neither team could put the game away at that point, forcing the sudden death frame.
The Sun Devils will take on No. 2 UCLA tomorrow in the semifinals of the MPSF Championships with the game getting underway at 12:30 p.m. PT. Live coverage of the action can be found at the following link tomorrow: http://www.usctrojans.com/sports/w-wpolo/2014-w-wpolo-mpsf-champ.html
1 2 3 4 OT1 OT2 SD FINAL
ASU 1 3 2 2 1 0 1 10
USC 3 0 2 3 0 1 0 9
ASU – Gao 4, Chiappini 4, Benekou, Pardi.
USC – Cummins 2, Vavic 2, I. Haralabidis, Stiefel, Appel, Gilchrist, Daube.
ASU – Keeve 17.
USC – Bolonyai 12.