Sophomore Claire Pierce was named to the WWPA All-Tournament First Team after scoring seven goals for the Pioneers.
The Cal State East Bay women's water polo team battled Santa Clara for the fourth time this season in the third place game at the WWPA Championship, coming out on the losing end of a 7-4 decision on Sunday at Chabot College. Despite the loss, the Pioneers (20-15) posted their best finish in program history at the event, taking fourth to improve on last season's previous best of fifth place.
Facing off for the fourth time this season, the third-place matchup might be called a grudge match, as East Bay looked for redemption after falling to the Broncos in the final weekend of the season. The two teams combined for seven penalties, two misconduct fouls and 19 exclusions in a physical game that saw the Santa Clara defense shut down the Pioneers' leading scorer, Claire Pierce, and held East Bay scoreless for two periods, with goalie Wren White making six saves. On the other end, the Pioneers kept Santa Clara out of the back of the net for 16 minutes in the second and third periods, as junior goalie Jayme Pekarske made four saves for East Bay.
The Broncos opened scoring less than a minute into the first quarter to take an early 1-0 lead. After four scoreless minutes, the East Bay answered back, drawing a penalty shot which senior Whitney Bell converted to tie the game at 1-1 with 2:52 left to play in the firs frame. Santa Clara regained the lead on a 6-on-5 situation, as Marina Allen scored her second of the period to put the Broncos up 2-1. SCU's second penalty of the game resulted in a goal for Chelsie Bryan with 30 seconds remaining to draw the Pioneers even at 2-2. The Broncos responded with a last-minute goal from Taylor Harkins with seven seconds left in the quarter to take a 3-2 advantage into the second period.
Despite five exclusions in the second quarter, neither team found the back of the net, sending the game into the break with the Broncos still leading 3-2. Though East Bay drew a penalty with 2:35 to play in the second frame, White expertly blocked Bryan's second penalty attempt of the game to keep the Pioneers scoreless through the quarter.
In a low-scoring third quarter, the Pioneers held the Broncos scoreless while posting a pair of goals to gain a 4-3 lead. Bell tied the game at three goals apiece with her second penalty-shot score of the contest at the 5:26 mark. Four minutes later, Danielle Comforti gave East Bay its first goal in the run of play and its first lead of the game, 4-3, with a goal at the 1:24 mark to cap the scoring in the third period.
The fourth quarter was all Santa Clara on the scoresheet, as the Broncos put away four goals, getting three of those from Caitlin Espe, while holding the Pioneers scoreless in the final frame. After Espe tied the game 4-4 just 18 seconds into the quarter, East Bay nearly regained a lead as another Comforti shot was just an inch away from completely crossing the goal line before White gained control of the ball to hold onto the 4-4 tie. Espe scored again at the 5:50 mark to put the Broncos up for the final time.
Santa Clara drew its first penalty of the game with 5:22 left to play, allowing Harkins to put the Broncos up 6-4 on the penalty shot goal. The Pioneers were not through yet, however, as SCU drew its fifth penalty of the game. White was there to make her second penalty shot save of the contest to maintain the 6-4 advantage. Another East Bay penalty allowed Espe to wrap up the scoring with the Broncos' seventh goal of the game at the 3:56 mark.
Pierce finished the tournament with seven goals in three games and was named to the WWPA All-Tournament First Team, while Pekarske, who made 18 saves this weekend, earned a spot on the All-Tournament Second Team.
The fourth-place finish was the Pioneers' best showing at the WWPA Championship in program history. East Bay has participated in seven WWPA Tournaments, dating back to 2002. Second-seeded UC San Diego captured the 2011 WWPA title, knocking off No. 1 seed and ninth-ranked Loyola Marymount to capture the championship and earn the conference's automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament, hosted by Michigan in two weeks.
The Pioneers will lose six seniors to graduation – Liz Warren, Tristan Kennedy-Donohue, Kendra Mason, Jenna Gelet, Comforti and Bell – but return three All-WWPA selections in Pierce, Pekarske and freshman Sarah Grunberger for the 2012 campaign.