Dec. 6, 2008

Courtesy Stanford Athletics

STANFORD, Calif. - Jeffrey Schwimer's only shot of Saturday's semifinal contest in the National Collegiate Men's Water Polo Championship proved to be the most important of the night, as the sophomore utility cashed in with 18 seconds remaining for what would prove to be the game-winning goal in second-seeded Stanford's 6-5 victory over third-seeded Loyola Marymount. The victory sends the Cardinal (25-5) into Sunday's national championship game against the top-seeded USC Trojans at 3 p.m.

Sunday's title game will also be televised live on CBS College Sports Network, as the Cardinal vies for its 11th national title overall and first since 2002.

Schwimer's goal, combined with one final brilliant save by goalkeeper Jimmie Sandman, who had 10 on the night, sent the Stanford faithful into a frenzy as the Cardinal reached the national championship game for the first time since 2005.

"I was really proud of how we played," said Stanford head coach John Vargas. "The guys were going for it, and we played great defense and Jimmie [Sandman] did a heck of a job in the goal, obviously. As I told the guys after the game, it doesn't matter if you win in the semifinal by one or twenty, you just have to win to get to the final. We accomplished what we set out to do."

The final goal came on a successful counterattack, as Janson Wigo found Schwimer with room to work in the front of the net. Schwimer's shot, aimed high, came too fast for LMU goalkeeper Andy Stevens and found its way past the line for Stanford's first lead since it was 1-0 just over two minutes into the game.

"Janson gave me a good pass, I grabbed it and threw it high and hard, got it off as quick as I could," Schwimer said after the game. "[Stevens] was blocking a lot of stuff low. I got the ball, sighted it and saw an opening over his head so that's where I went."

With LMU possessing one final chance, it was time for the Stanford defense to bare its teeth. Despite being down a man for the final 14 seconds, the Cardinal rose to the occasion and with Sandman's point-blank save of a Brian Benedetti shot with four seconds on the clock completed a stretch of 12:08 in which it had kept the Lions off of the scoreboard.

The defensive effort was key in keeping Stanford in a game in which the offense was forced to battle and scrap for all six of its goals. Stevens, LMU's sophomore goalkeeper, made 14 saves on the night and was supported by a defense which frustrated the Cardinal attack with numerous field blocks that prevented Stanford from building any momentum.

It was a true back-and-forth contest as the Cardinal, on the power play, opened the scoring 2:25 into the game as Drac Wigo whipped a backhand shot past Stevens for the 1-0 lead. Yet the Lions would counter just 14 seconds later on Benedetti's first goal of the game.

The Lions would build that lead to 2-1 with 3:05 remaining in the first period on Tim Hummel's 6-on-5 goal. The teams would continue battling as the first period ended with the scoreboard showing LMU ahead by a score, and it would stay that way into the opening minutes of the second until Stanford would equalize.

Cody Wiesen converted what would be his lone goal of the day with 5:56 to go before halftime, but once again, the Cardinal's momentum would be short-lived as Benedetti rifled a shot past Sandman to reclaim the lead for the Lions.

Will Hindle-Katel would manage to tie things at 3-3 with 3:25 to play, and the teams would go into the half deadlocked.

The second half would begin with the Lions needing only 53 seconds to go back in front, as Tim Heafner's shot found its way into the cage to make it 4-3.

After a few more traded possessions, the Cardinal managed to equalize once more as Sage Wright found a hole under Stevens for his only goal of the contest. Yet once more, it did not take long for LMU to get ahead, scoring just over a minute later behind the arm of Andrew Aki with 4:08 to play in the third period.

But that would end up being the last goal of the contest for the Lions, as the Stanford defense stiffened the rest of the way. Sandman made four saves in the period while the Cardinal defense swarmed Lion attackers and disrupted passing lanes. The play of the defense allowed the offense to break through with 6:24 to play on Drac Wigo's second goal of the contest.

The final 6:24 was fraught with tension as the teams traded shot after shot, with Stevens making a clutch save on a five-meter penalty shot from Drac Wigo minutes before Schwimer would finally break the stalemate and get the deciding goal that would send the Cardinal into the national final.