CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- 2009 Eastern Championship Most Valuable Player Kyle Wertz (Sr.. San Diego, Calif./Westlake) scored five goals, handed out two assists, grabbed four steals and blocked a shot as the No. 15-ranked Midshipmen of the United States Naval Academy used a fourth period comeback to edge No. 18 Brown University to earn a return trip to the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) Eastern Championship title game.
Trailing 9-8 at the conclusion of the third period, Navy needed a pair of scores by Wertz and solo strikes by Paul Pedrotty (Jr., Coronado, Calif./Coronado) and Jesse Walker (Jr., Seattle, Wash./Seattle Academy) along with a strong team defensive effort to rally back and escape with a two-goal victory.
Navy tied the game 24 seconds into the fourth period as Toby Espinosa (Sr., Palo Alto, Calif./Menlo) was ejected at 7:40 before Pedrotty converted on the man-up chance at 7:36 to even the damage at 9-to-9.
The goal ignited the Midshipmen's offense as Wertz buried a shot at 6:42 to put the Mids in front to stay and Walker found the cage with a blast at 5:10 to make it 11-9.
Between the goals, Navy received a fortuitous break as Darren McKay (Sr., Wilton Manors, Fla./Northeast) received his third personal foul as he was called for a five-meter penalty. Facing Northern Division Player of the Year Svetozar Stefanovic (Jr., Belgrade, Serbia/Russian Embassy), goalie Anthony Gutierrez (Jr., Long Beach, Calif./Long Beach Poly) did not make the save, nor did he need to as Stefanovic's shot sailed a foot wide of the cage on the left side to keep Navy in front.
----Article courtesy of the CWPA
Trailing by two with the clocking winding down on Brown's title hopes, the Bears' offense came out of hibernation as Stefanovic skipped in a shot to pull his squad back to within one at 11-10 with 3:29 on the clock.
Neither team could solve the other squads' defense for the next three minutes until Navy's Arny Warren (Sr., Baltimore, Md./Calvert Hall College) hit Wertz with a pool-length pass. Wertz outsprinted his defender the rest of the way and lined a shot under the left arm of Brown goalie Walker Shockley (So., Diamond Bar, Calif./Damien) with 23 seconds left on the game clock for the final nail in the coffin at the 12-10 final score.
Beyond the play of Wertz, the hero of the contest for the Midshipmen was Gutierrez who turned aside seven shots in the game, including five in the third period alone, to help Navy rally back from a 7-5 halftime deficit and make it back to the Eastern title tilt.
The game did not appear destined to end with a Navy win at the beginning of the first period as James McNamara (So., Los Angeles, Calif./Harvard-Westlake), Grant Villeneuve (So., Atherton, Calif./Deerfield Academy) and Michael Hartwick (Jr., Los Angeles, Calif./Harvard-Westlake) stung the Mids for man-up goals at 7:15, 5:20 and 3:24, respectivley, to give the Bears a 3-0 lead midway through the opening frame.
Navy broke the ice at 3:00 as Southern Division Player of the Year Conor Handley (Sr., Naperville, Ill./Naperville North) took advantage of a six-on-five chance, but Brown returned the lead to three at 4-1 37 seconds later when Stefanovic cashed in on an ejection to Wertz.
Needing a score to close the gap and prevent the Bears from running away with the game, Wertz skipped a five-meter penalty shot off the water and under Shockley's right arm with 52 seconds remaining in the period. Pedrotty shaved the deficit back to a single marker prior to the horn as he zipped in a shot with 16 seconds left on the clock following an ejection of McNamara.
The ejection to McNamara would be critical in the later stages of the game as the Bears' leading defender and one of its leading scorers left the game with 4:20 left in the fourth period with his third ejection.
In the second period, Pedrotty recorded his second consecutive score with a strike at 7:06 to tie the game at four-all, but the Bears outscored the Midshipmen 3-1 over the remainder of the first half to carry a 7-5 lead into halftime.
Nick Deaver (Fr., Orinda, Calif./Miramonte) put Brown back in front at the 5:19 mark with a man-up goal, but Stevie Ray (Sr., Baytown, Texas/Ross S. Sterling) accepted a pass and buried the feed into the back of the cage at 5:04 with both squads playing at even-strength to tie the game at 5-to-5.
Henry Fox (Fr., Mercer Island, Wash./Lakeside School) returned the lead to the Bears at 4:40 with another man-up tally by Brown before McNamara fired a shot into the cage at 3:59.
Trailing by two with only 16 minutes of action left in regulation, Navy trimmed the deficit to one in the opening moments of the third period via a score by Handley at 6:41.
Deaver stuck another ball into the cage at 5:45 to return a two-goal lead to Brown, but Wertz mowed through the Bears for his second score at 4:23 to make it 8-7.
Following a yellow card to Navy head coach Mike Schofield at 2:46, the Midshipmen appeared to find another gear as Wertz converted on an exclusion to McNamara at 2:25 to knot the game at 8-to-8. The tie lasted for approximately two minutes before Brown outfoxed the Midshipmen with a strike by Fox at the 37 seconds mark to put the Bears ahead 9-8 and set-up the dramatic finale.
The victory places Navy (24-6) into the Eastern Championship title game at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, November 20 for the seventh consecutive year as the Midshipmen captured the 2006-08 crowns and fell to Princeton University (2009) and St. Francis College (2005, 2010) in the other two title tilts. In the history of the league, only two other programs have appeared in seven consecutive championship games, Brown (1981-87) and the University of Massachusetts (1993-1999).
For the Southern Division champion Mids, their opponent for a shot at the Academy's 10th CWPA Eastern Championship, after previously claiming the 1986-88, 1990, 2000, 2003 and 2006-08 crowns, is a familiar foe - Southern Division runner-up Princeton.
The last time Navy faced the Tigers, the Midshipmen downed the Tigers 10-5 in the Southern Division Championship game at Princeton. During the regular season, Princeton swept the season series downing Navy 11-9 and 10-9 W in overtime to hold a 2-1 advantage in games entering the Eastern Championship game.
A 13-11 OT victor against No. 16/Northern Division champion St. Francis College in the earlier semifinal, the Tigers are making their 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.
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 is the fact that Navy has never defeated Princeton in a neutral site CWPA Eastern Championship title game.
Navy is 9-for-15 in Eastern Championship games downing Brown (1986, 1987, 1990), University of Arkansas (1988), St. Francis (2000, 2007) and Princeton (2003, 2006, 2008), while falling to Brown (1984), Slippery Rock University (1991), University of Massachusetts (1994), Queens College (2002), St. Francis (2005, 2010) and Princeton (2009).
The Northern Division runner-up, Brown will conclude its season at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday against archnemesis St. Francis looking for its first win of the year against the Terriers following 11-7 and 16-7 regular season losses and an 11-10 defeat in triple-sudden death overtime in the Northern Division title game.