BERKELEY, Calif. – A strong start carried the Cal men’s water polo team to the lead and that advantage never waned as the Bears got the 2016 NCAA Tournament started with a 16-6 win over Pomona-Pitzer in a NCAA Tournament play-in game at Spieker Aquatics Complex.
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With Thursday night’s win, Cal (21-4) moves past the play-in round and advances to Saturday’s national semifinal against UCLA. The Bears will take on No. 2 UCLA in the second game of the day and will follow Harvard, which beat UC Davis 16-15 in overtime on Thursday, against USC. Saturday’s first game will begin at 6 p.m. ET while the Bears and Bruins will tangle at 8:12.
Cal got rolling right away Thursday, taking a lead just 20 seconds into the match thanks to a goal by Nicholas Carniglia. A steal by goalkeeper Lazar Andric sent the Bears in transition shortly thereafter and, after a strong outlet pass, Johnny Hooper converted to make it 2-0.
That rhythm continued for the rest of the half. Hooper scored again, Safak Simsek added a goal and Pedro Stellet scored from 2-meters to make it 5-0 at the end of one period. Odysseas Masmanidis joined the scoring party to start the second period, Carniglia scored two in a row and Hooper added his third to make it 9-1 at the midway point.
A pair of Masmanidis goals right out of halftime earned the sophomore from Greece a hat trick and Hooper turned a long rebound into his fourth goal of the night. Simsek found the range again and fellow freshman Jordan Hoover added the next two to give the Bears a 15-1 lead after three.
Pomona-Pitzer (21-9) found its offensive groove late in the match and connected with the net frequently in the fourth to outscore Cal 5-1 in the fourth. Stellet added the final goal for the Bears with just one second left. Andric worked into the third period for the Bears in goal and allowed just one goal while making seven saves before Bernardo Carelli took over to play the rest of the way and the freshman stopped five shots.
“As we built the lead, I think there were some good hook-ups between players. Hooper’s pass to Ody, then working inside and getting the ball to the centers, getting nice movement with the ball and sharing the ball,” Cal head coach Kirk Everist said. “I thought their energy on defense was good too. They were moving, closing out quickly and crashing quickly. Those were things we wanted to see today as we got into the tournament and kind of got the jitters out. We got to play a game in front of a crowd that had a good energy to it with the game before us being so exciting. I think that added to the environment which is a good way to get things started.”