LBSU clinches spot in MSPF tournament
Published: Monday, November 12, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 12, 2012 20:11
It had been a long road with a lot of struggle and a lot of heartbreak. Only Spencer White, a fourth-year transfer, had playoff experience. Time was of the essence for the 49ers’ most senior members, but it was a freshman that stepped up to send The Beach to its first Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament berth since 2008.
Nolan McConnell scored four goals in the first quarter, and No. 8 Long Beach State defeated No. 9 UC Irvine, 12-10, to punch its postseason ticket Sunday afternoon at the Campus Pool.
“It’s nice to turn the corner,” head coach Gavin Arroyo said. “It’s been a rough couple of years.”
LBSU (21-7, 3-4) knew it was in control of its own destiny, as it needed just one win in its last two games to assure itself a spot among the season’s final eight. Nevertheless, the players were relieved to take the pressure off themselves before the season finale next Sunday against UC Santa Barbara.
“We didn’t get there my first two years,” junior Nick Rascon said. “It feels great.”
The pressure inside the locker room to finally get to the MPSF tournament did not seem to faze McConnell, who said he couldn’t really relate to his teammates’ feelings given the 49ers’ success in his first year.
“I just go out and play the game of water polo,” McConnell said.
The 49ers jumped out to the early advantage. McConnell scored three goals in the first three minutes and ended the quarter with his fourth goal of the period.
McConnell has been cautious to shoot at times, but Sunday, the freshman southpaw became the Anteaters’ worst nightmare as he fired his first four shots past goalkeeper Michael Bailey.
“They were basically just leaving me open and asking me to shoot,” McConnell said. “Luckily they were going in.”
The 49ers nearly squandered a four-goal lead, as they allowed UCI (14-11, 0-7) to close the deficit to 5-4. LBSU managed to flip the switch and enter the break with a 7-4 lead.
In the second half, Arroyo turned to his defense to preserve the lead and the impending playoff berth. Rascon found himself in the middle of the 49ers protection scheme, creating steals and forcing turnovers by the Anteaters within the two-meter box.
Rascon received some rare time defending the interior, as Dimitrios Lappas has also occupied that position for much of the year. Neither stands taller than 6’2’’, but the 49ers have chosen to put their length out on the perimeter to clog the shooting lanes.
LBSU used a boatload of turnovers to extend its lead to five to start the fourth quarter. UCI would close the gap to within two goals with 1:12 remaining, but the ‘Eaters failed to capitalize on their next possession and the 49ers ran out the clock.
The Beach will end its regular season by taking a trip up to UCSB (15-9, 1-6). Arroyo says that the team is not concerned about its seeding, but will use the game as an opportunity to focus on the details.
“I think we’ve kind of gotten into a comfort zone playing at home,” Arroyo said. “It’s nice to have a road test before we go to [Los Angeles].”
Arroyo added that every team in the MPSF tournament is a difficult matchup. The tournament will be held at USC from Nov. 23-25.