The high-water mark of the UC Irvine men's water polo season was Sept. 18, after the Anteaters trounced Chapman to improve to 9-0.
Then, the deluge began.
The No. 9-ranked 'Eaters collapsed after taking a 5-4 halftime lead to absorb a 9-6 loss to visiting Long Beach State in a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation clash on Thursday. It was the fourth straight loss, the sixth in the last seven matches and the seventh in the last nine, since the aforementioned unbeaten start. The two wins during that streak were both by one goal, one in overtime.
UCI is now 11-7, 0-2 in conference and, from the post-match assessment delivered by Coach Marc Hunt, may struggle to stay afloat in the rugged MPSF. UCI has now lost 12 straight conference regular-season contests since claiming a 13-12 win over Long Beach State on Nov. 3, 2011.
"I think this was one of the first bigger-moment games for us," said Hunt, who was nothing but clear about what went wrong in the second half against the No. 7-ranked 49ers (17-5, 1-0).
"We just went flat," Hunt said. "I don't think it was that they threw something different at us. We got tight. I think our response to a pressure moment was terrible. We got an opportunity and we clearly did not take advantage of it. In fact, it went the absolute opposite direction."
UCI, which converted five of 11 shots in the opening two quarters, including two of five on man-advantage situations, scored on just one of nine shots after intermission. Included in the second-half slump was four power-play situations in which it failed to score.
"Really what it came down to is that we scored five goals in the first half and we scored one goal in the second half," Hunt said. "So, offensively, we fell flat on our face."
Hunt did like some of his team's defensive work, particularly its two-meter defense, as Long Beach netted just one goal from the set position.
Starting goalie Michael Bailey provided another highlight, blocking a five-meter penalty shot from Ricardo Guimares with 5:15 left in the first half.
But Bailey and second-half goalie Alex Kazmier were both victimized by soft goals, according to Hunt, virtually negating their highlight-reel saves.
"The upside is, there are small pieces [of strong play]," Hunt said. "The two-meter defenders did a good job … So, I like the moments I see, but the consistency is something we still have to achieve."
Senior Mitch Wise, a two-time All-American, led UCI with two goals and two assists.
Senior Bojan Hrlec scored two goals, while junior Jacob Mourer and sophomore Tyler Mancuso added one goal each for the Anteaters, for whom Hrlec, sophomore Larson Pfeil and junior Justin Papa had one assist apiece.
Bailey had six saves and Kazmier had five for UCI, while 49ers goalie Pavo Ljepopio had six.
Long Beach State senior Carter Taylor had four goals and Guimares added two for the winners, who also defeated UCI, 13-10, in overtime at the UCI Invitational on Oct. 13.
UCI plays host to No. 2-ranked UCLA on Friday at 7 p.m.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun