ERIE, Pa. — Goalie Marko Kruska (Jr., Belgrade, Serbia/West Valley College) made 17 saves, including nine in the second half, as No. 3 seed Mount St. Mary’s University defended its berth with an 11-10 victory over No. 4 seed/host Mercyhurst University in the Third Place game of the Winter 2021 Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference (MAWPC)-West Championship at the David M. Hallman III Aquatics Center.
The Player of the Game, Kruska needed to overcome a Lakers’ surge in the fourth quarter to preserve the Mountaineers’ victory as Mercyhurst bombarded the first-year varsity program with four goals over the final eight minutes.
Mount St. Mary’s, which never trailed against the Lakers, jumped out to a 3-0 margin less than six minutes into the game as Eli Thalos (Jr., Salt Lake City, Utah/West) broke the ice at the 4:24 mark prior to Jason O’Donnell (Fr., Beaconsfield, Quebec/John Abbott College) slamming home a pair of scores at 3:36 and 2:38.
Mercyhurst eradicated its deficit in short order as Joel Parnell (Jr., Saint Andrew, Jamaica/Wolmer’s Boys’ School) and Derek Kagen (So., San Diego, Calif./Clairemont) cashed in on man-up opportunities at 2:25 and 1:50, respectively, prior to Dylan Shaffer (Sr., Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif./Tesoro) depositing the equalizer with 52 seconds left on the quarter clock to make it three-all.
Thalos put Mount St. Mary’s ahead once more prior to the conclusion of the frame, however, as he swished a feed at the 30 seconds mark as the Mountaineers climbed ahead 4-3.
Kacper Cieplik (Fr., Beaconsfield, Quebec/John Abbott College) insulated the lead to 5-3 30 seconds into the second quarter, but the Lakers sailed back into the game to knot the Mount St. Mary’s at five-all.
Michael Gutman (Jr., Columbus, Ohio/Saint Charles Prep) inflicted the damage for Mercyhurst as he drove home goals at 5:24 and 4:59 to balance the scoreboard at five-all.
Mount St. Mary’s put an end to the the game’s equality over the remainder of the first half as Cieplik (4:22, man-up) and O’Donnell (2:47 man-up; 1:20) ignited a 5-0 avalanche that stretched into mid-point of the third quarter.
Leading 8-5 at halftime, the Mountaineers pushed further up the slope to victory as Will Twizell (Gr., Adelaide, Australia/Scotch College) and Ben Dable (Fr., St, Louis, Mo./Parkway North) opened the third quarter by spiking balls into the rear of the cage at 7:33 and 4:22, respectively, to double-up Mercyhurst at 10-5.
The Lakers got one score back prior to the third quarter drawing to a close as Shaffer slipped a shot into the twine at 1:29 to trim the margin down to four at 10-6.
Mount St. Mary’s tacked on another insurance goal with 6:18 left in the fourth quarter as O’Donnell padded the margin to 11-6 in what appeared destined to be a victory.
Destiny, however, can be a fickle friend.
Ahead by five with six minutes to play, the Mountaineers’ offense went cold and Mercyhurst’s shooters heated up as the Lakers started to chip away at Mount St. Mary’s lead.
Kagen (6:04), Brennan Cumby (Fr., Grand Blanc, Mich./Grand Blanc) (3:09; 1:31) and Teagan Thomas (So., St., Louis, Mo./De Smet Jesuit) (1:00) ran-off back-to-back goals over a five-minute span to place Mercyhurst on the doorstep of forcing overtime.
Time and Kruska, however, kept the Lakers from completing the comeback as the ticking of the clock and the netminder saved the day to allow the Mountaineers’ to reach the Third Place game’s summit.
O’Donnell led the way for The Mount with five goals, while Thalos and Cieplik both added pairs. Twizell and Dable notched solo strikes as Mount St. Mary’s wrapped up its inaugural season as a varsity program with a 5-4 record – including a 5-3 mark in regular season and championship MAWPC-West competition.
The Mountaineers’ Third Place finish marks the highest placement by a first-year varsity program in the history of the MAWPC-West Championship – shattering the previous best of Fifth Place established by McKendree University in 2017.
Four Lakers scored twice to anchor the Mercyhurst attack as Kagen, Shaffer, Gutman and Cumby combined for eight of their team’s 10 markers. Thomas and Parnell did the rest of offense.
In cage, Nash Greeven (Jr., Vista, Calif./Cathedral Catholic) turned away 11 shots in taking the loss.
The Fourth Place finish is nothing new for Mercyhurst as the Lakers previously placed fourth in both 2018 and 2019 after notching runner-up (2017) and championship (2016) performances in the first two MAWPC-West Championships.
|1st Q||2nd Q||3rd Q||4th Q||–||FINAL|
|Mount St. Mary’s University
|Mercyhurst Goals:||Derek Kagen (2); Dylan Shaffer (2); Michael Gutman (2); Brennan Cumby (2); Teagan Thomas; Joel Parnell|
|Mount St. Mary’s Goals:||Jason O’Donnell (5); Eli Thalos (2); Kacper Cieplik (2); Will Twizell; Ben Dable|
|Saves:||Mercyhurst – Nash Greeven (11) ; Mount St, Mary’s – Marko Kruska (17)|
|Exclusions:||Mercyhurst – 5 ; Mount St, Mary’s – 7|
|Advantage Opportunities:||Mercyhurst – 3-for-7; Mount St, Mary’s – 2-for-5|
|Sprints:||Mercyhurst – 0-for-4 ; Mount St, Mary’s – 4-for-4|
|Officials:||Igor Mernenko ; Andre St. Omer Roy|
Mercyhurst University’s Luke Tanner (#14) defends Mount St. Mary’s University’s Kacper Cieplik (#11)
Mount St. Mary’s University’s Jason Fitch (#14) and goalie Marko Kruska (#1) look to stop Mercyhurst University’s Derek Kagen (#20)
Mount St. Mary’s University’s Will Twizell (#4)