With more raw relief than joy, USC head coach Jovan Vavic called his team’s sudden death NCAA semifinal victory over Stanford on Saturday a “classic.”
“Two great teams, a great game to watch, but not so great to coach,” the hoarse Vavic opined.
Stanford had beaten USC twice during the season including a convincing 7-4 victory at the MPSF tournament. The Cardinal continued the trend, leading 3-1 at the end of the first quarter of the highly anticipated rematch. But USC never fell behind by more than two scores and gained the lead, 8-7, late in the third quarter.
A Brett Bonanni breakaway followed by a composed end-of-the-shot-clock slider by sophomore Connor Stapleton put the Cardinal back on top, 9-8 with nearly six minutes remaining in the final period. Stanford failed to convert on a crucial power play with three minutes left. Connor Cleary gained possession of the rebound amidst a furious scrum but fell short of clearing it to a teammate and the very real opportunity of a two-goal cushion passed.
Greek sharpshooter Kostas Genidounias had been well contained until then, the focus of intense Cardinal pressure. With 14 seconds remaining the defense cracked. Genidounias connected with a game-tying perimeter screamer in front of a frenzied La Jolla crowd.
Stanford’s Alex Bowen – “clutch,” as described by Coach Vargas – sparkled in the two overtime periods, tying the game at 10 at the end of the first and putting his team up by one in the second. Genidounias countered, netting a power play goal to even the game at 11 with barely 10 seconds remaining.
The game reverted to its elements in sudden death, each side angling to free its most reliable scorer. Genidounias delivered again with the requisite drama, five seconds on the clock and his twisting shot sliding past goalkeeper Drew Holland (as seen in the highlight video above).
The Trojans will now attempt to win its seventh title in a row, matched against Los Angeles rivals UCLA in the Sunday championship.