PRINCETON, N.J. — Marko Gencic skipped a feed from Balint Toth with 1:25 left in the second overtime period for the season-deciding tally as No. 12 St. Francis held off No. 15 Bucknell 10-9 to claim the 2012 Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) Eastern Championship.
The Terriers (16-8) overcame a Bison (17-14) fourth-quarter comeback that nearly ended St. Francis’ season. The Terriers earned an automatic bid to their third NCAA tournament and their second in the last three seasons.
Genoic, who scored the game-winner with 1:25 remaining, was named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament after scoring 15 goals.
Following a 12-11 victory against No. 17 Mercyhurst in the semifinals, the Terriers opened the game with a cold streak as Southern Division Player of the Year Brian Barron struck for a five-meter penalty shot at the 5:48 mark to put the Bison in front 1-0.
St. Francis tied the score 25 seconds later via a blast by Bosko Stankovic at 5:23, but the Bison regained the scoring advantage with 24 seconds remaining in the opening period on a sweeping shot by Mike Kimble to make it 2-1.
The Terriers tied the game up with 6:26 left in the first half as Stankovic found a crack in the Bison defense for a man-up strike. St. Francis gained its first lead of the contest less than two minutes later when Marko Dzigurski beat Bucknell goalie Matt Napleton with a shot that skimmed the water and settled into the back of the cage at 4:43 to take SFC to a 3-2 lead.
Bucknell erased the margin as Barron slammed a five-meter penalty shot past the diving St. Francis netminder Igor Mladenovic at 4:31 to even the score at three.
Following a penalty call on Toth and a yellow card to St. Francis head coach Igor Samardzija at 1:34, the Bison went back in front courtesy another succesful five-meter penalty shot by Barron to make it 4-3. However, the Terriers’ Vuk Vujosevic unleashed the equalizer at 1:06 to head into halftime with the score tied at four.
The tie lasted for 46 seconds to start the third quarter before Gencic scored his first of three goals to put the Terriers ahead 5-4.
The goal ignited St. Francis’ offense as Vujosevic (5:31), Dzigurski (2:32) and Liam Veazey (1:25) connected on scoring shots to cap off a 4-0 run to begin the second half and make it 8-4.
Bucknell answered the run with one of its own as Alex Nowlin finished a six-on-five chance with 54 seconds on the clock to move the Bison within 8-5 at the conclusion of the third quarter.
The run continued to begin the fourth quarter as Barron (7:20) and Stefan Aleksic (6:18) rocketed in goals to cut St. Francis’ lead down to 8-7.
Three and a half minutes later, the lead disappeared as Nowlin notched his second goal of the game to close out the run and balance the scoreboard at eight with 2:40 left on the clock.
Neither team was able to find the back of the cage in regulation as the Napleton and the Bison defense stymied the Terriers’ offense on man-up chances at 2:18 and 1:06, while St. Francis and Mladenovic turned aside a man-up opportunity with 45 seconds left to bring on overtime.
Bucknell went back in front 26 seconds into the first OT frame as Jack Else broke loose for a point-blank shot at the 2:34 mark, but St. Francis answered at the 55 seconds mark as a line-drive by Gencic ticked off Stankovic and into the cage to equalize the score at nine.
Following back-and-forth play to begin the second overtime period during which Napleton and Mladenovic stiffled their opposing shooters, the Bison had a chance to go back in front.
After the ejection of David Lonnberg at 2:42 to put the Bison on the power-play, Bucknell worked the ball around the perimeter looking for an open shot. However, the Terriers’ defense kept the Bison from attempting a shot and forced a turnover as the shot clock expired.
On the heels of a fruitless St. Francis man-up bid at 1:48, Gencic skipped a pass to the right side from Stankovic up and over the left arm of Napleton with 1:25 on the clock for the championship.
Bucknell had two chances during the final minute to put away a tying score and force sudden death, but Mladenovic stopped a shot on a man-up chance with 57 seconds to go. Regaining possession of the ball with 6.83 seconds left on the game clock, the Bison again went on the power-play as Guram Nozadze went to the corner with three seconds left to hand the Bison one final chance on a man-up opportunity.
Nowlin’s desperation heave as the clock expired sailed high over the crossbar and the outstretched hands of Mladenovic.
Overall, the title marks Northern Division Champion St. Francis’ third title in seven tries as the team previously captured the 2005 and 2010 championships.