No. 19 Princeton University Stuns No. 16 St. Francis College 13-11 OT to Reach 2011 CWPA Eastern Championship Game

Tim Wenzlau
Tim Wenzlau

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Trailing 11-9 with less than three minutes to play in regulation, No. 19 Princeton University received a pair of penalty shots in the waning moments of the game to shock No. 16 and defending champion St. Francis College 13-11 OT to earn a berth into the 2011 Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) Eastern Championship title game at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, November 20 in Harvard University's Blodgett Pool.

The Tigers (21-9) will face either No. 18 Brown University or No. 15 the United States Naval Academy as the Bears and Midshipmen will face-off in the other semifinal game. 

It marks Princeton's first appearance in the Eastern title tilt since capturing the 2009 championship across town at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology against Navy via a 5-4 final score. 

The Tigers' lost the last time they played either of their opponents as the Orange & Black fell to Navy (10-5 L) in the Southern Division Championship game, and dropped a 16-5 game to Brown at Harvard in the Ivy Championship title game. It marked the only losses by Princeton during the season by both programs as the Tigers defeated Navy (11-9 W OT, 10-9 W OT) and Brown (11-6 W) in non-championship play.

In the history of the Princeton program, the Tigers are 3-3 in title games with victories in 1992, 2004 (3-2 OT SD vs. St. Francis at Bucknell University) and 2009, with losses to Navy in 2003 (8-6 L at Navy), 2006 (9-6 L at Princeton) and 2008 (9-6 L at Navy).  Notable in the history is that the fact Navy has never defeated Princeton in a neutral site CWPA Eastern Championship title game.  Brown and Princeton have never played for the Eastern crown, a historical footnote that could be erased in less than 24 hours.

For Princeton to continue its season, claim the Eastern Championship and earn the league's automatic bid to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Championship on December 3-4 at the University of California-Berkeley, the Tigers will need to receive a scoring attack and luck similar to their output against the Terriers.

Leading 9-8 entering the fourth period, St. Francis (14-9) cushioned its margin to three goals midway through the final eight minutes of regulation as Vuk Vujosevic (Fr., Belgrade, Serbia/Milos Crnjanski) cranked a man-up shot into the cage at 5:57 and dumped a natural goal past Princeton netminder Ben Dearborn (So., Palo Alto, Calif./Sacred Heart Prep) at 4:22 to make it 11-8.

Facing a clock winding down on their season, the Tigers found a way to survive as Drew Hoffenberg (Fr., Rancho Santa Fe, Calif./The Bishop's School) netted a score at 4:06 to close the gap to 11-9.  From there, the whistle and a pair of five-meter penalty shots did the rest to bring on overtime as Tim Wenzlau (Jr., Palo Alto, Calif./Palo Alto) and Hoffenberg converted on five-meter penalty shots at 2:33 and 46 seconds following calls against Tamas Toth (Sr., Budapest, Hungary/Eotvos Jozsef Gimnazium) and Filip Sasic (Sr., Zagreb, Croatia/Titus Brezouazki) to knot the score.

The Terriers had a chance to terminate the Tigers' season in regulation as Thomas Nelson (Fr., Walnut Creek, Calif./De La Salle) was ejected for the third time with 17 seconds left in the period, but a desperation shot by Marko Gencic (Jr., Belgrade, Serbia/Sports Gymnasium) as time expired sailed an inch over the crossbar to send the game into a pair of three-minute overtime periods.

Both teams battled for dominance in the first OT period, but the Tigers struck courtesy another penalty shot with 49 seconds on the clock as Gencic received his third personal foul.  Wenzlau put the shot away by bouncing the ball off the water and under the arm of SFC goalie Igor Mladenovic (So., Belgrade, Serbia/Sportska Gimnazjia) for the eventual game-winning score.

Princeton cushioned its lead with 1:54 left in the second OT period as Hoffenberg connected on a man-up shot following an ejection to Bosko Stankovic (So., Belgrade, Serbia/Sport Gymnasium) at 2:11 to establish the 13-11 final and advance the Tigers onto the title game.

Overall, four penalties were called in the game, with Princeton receiving and converting on three of them in the final 8:33 of competition.

The game was a struggle between both program's six-on-five squads as the Terriers converted on six-of-16 advantage chances, with the Tigers netting five goals on 14 opportunities.

St. Francis jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead in the first period thanks to a pair of ejections as Alexandar Pantic (Sr., Belgrade, Serbia/Sport High School) and Sasic tossed in man-up goals with 7:14 and 6:14 left in the first period. 

Princeton cut into the lead with a marker by Hoffenberg at 5:06, but the Terriers tacked on advantage scores by Sasic (4:37) adn Pantic (3:33) to increase their lead to 4-2.  The margin remained two at the conclusion of the first period as Billy Tifft (Jr., San Diego, Calif./The Bishop's School) registered a man-up goal at 1:56 and Pantic torched the Tigers with a five-meter goal with 51 seconds on the clock after a call against Jeff Cole (Sr., Santa Barbara, Calif./Santa Barbara).

Trailing by two, Princeton needed over four minutes to cut into the lead as Nelson buried a shot into the right side of the cage with 3:33 left in the first half to move within 5-4.  However, SFC stung Princeton with consecutive tallies by Toth (3:16) and Gencic (58 seconds) to take a 7-4 lead.

Needing a comeback to have a chance of upending St. Francis, Chris Cottrell (Sr., Newport Beach, Calif./Corona del Mar) skipped in a shot with 30 seconds left in the second period to make it 7-5.

The goal started a three-goal outburst by Princeton as Matt Weber (Fr., Greenwich, Conn./Greenwich) hit on consecutive scoring attempts at 7:29 and 6:31 of the third period to balance the scoreboard at 7-to-7.

St. Francis unknotted it thirty seconds later courtesy a marker by Stankovic, but Kayj Shannon (Fr., Los Angeles, Calif./Harvard-Westlake) managed the equalizer at the 4:28 mark.  Once again the Terriers went back in front as Pantic pumped in his fourth and final goal of the day with 20 seconds remaining in the period to make it 9-8 and set-up Princeton's penalty-shot produced comeback.

A key to the game was the play of Dearborn, who turned aside 12 shots, including three in overtime, to garner Player of the Game honors after not appearing in the Tigers' 14-3 victory over Iona College in the opening round of the tournament.

On offense, Hoffenberg tied for high-scorer honors in the game by contributing four tallies, while Wenzlau, Cottrell and Weber each chipped in a pair of strikes.

For St. Francis, Pantic led the way with four goals, while Vujosevic and Sasic each contributed a pair of markers.  Mladenovic added seven saves in cage to take the loss.

The Terriers will conclude their season at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday against the loser of the Brown-Navy semifinal.  SFC is 0-1 against the Midshipmen (9-8 OT L) and 3-0 versus the Bears (11-7 W OT, 16-7 W, 11-10 W OT SD).

Team 1st 2nd 3rd 4th OT1 OT2 -- Final
No. 19 Princeton University 3 2
1 1 -- 13
No. 16 St. Francis College 5 2
0 0 -- 11

SFC Goals: Alexandar Pantic (4); Vuk Vujosevic (2); Filip Sasic (2); Marko Gencic; Tamas Toth; Bosko Stankovic

Princeton Goals: Drew Hoffenberg (4); Tim Wenzlau (2); Chris Cottrell (2); Matt Weber (2); Billy Tifft; Thomas Nelson; Kayj Shannon

Saves: SFC - Igor Mladenovic (7) ; Princeton - Ben Dearborn (12)

Exclusions: SFC - 14 ; Princeton - 16

Advantage Opportunities: SFC - 6-for-16 ; Princeton - 5-for-14

Sprints: SFC - 3-for-6 (1st, 2nd, 6th) ; Princeton - 3-for-6 (3rd, 4th, 5th)

Cards: YC - Princeton (Head Coach Luis Nicolao, 4:57 2nd period )

Officials: Michael Goldenberg, Eddie Ajuz 

Princeton University's Kayj Shannon shoots against St. Francis College's Igor Mladenovic

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