LONDON _ Three days ago, former Cooperstown resident Sarah Groff called fourth place the worst position to finish in the Olympics.
Ex-Hartwick College teammates Bronwen Knox and Sophie Smith might relate to the sentiments expressed by Groff following her fourth-place finish in the Olympic triathlon on Saturday.
Knox and Smith failed to score for Australia on Tuesday in its 11-9 overtime loss to the United States in a semifinal of the women's Olympic water polo tournament.
Australia forced overtime on a penalty shot by Southern Ash
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with one second left in regulation after U.S. coach Adam Krikorian called an illegal timeout. Ash's 5-meter shot tied the score at 9.
But Maggie Steffens and Kami Craig scored in overtime for the Americans, who'll play Spain _ a 10-9 winner over Hungary in the other semifinal _ for the gold medal at 3 p.m. Thursday.
Australia and Hungary will meet for the bronze medal at 1:40 p.m. Thursday. The same teams played for the bronze in 2008, when Knox scored three goals to lead the Aussies to a 12-11 overtime victory at Beijing. The loser Thursday will head home without a medal.
Knox, who played for Hartwick in 2005 and 2006, played 19 1/2 minutes Tuesday and took three shots. She had a chance to tie the score at 8 with 5:20 left in regulation. Knox had a shot blocked by a defender but tracked down the deflection and shot again. American goalie Betsey Armstrong made the save.
One of the commentators on the NBC broadcast Tuesday said Knox played for Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y. Knox, 26, scored an NCAA-high 127 goals for Hartwick in 2006, when she earned Second Team All-American status. Knox also had one steal against the U.S., which beat Australia, 9-8, in a 2008 Olympic semifinal en route to a silver medal.
Smith, 26, played for Hartwick in 2005. She played a little over six minutes Tuesday, taking one shot that Armstrong saved in the first quarter.
The other former Hartwick player in these Olympics _ 23-year-old Lisa Gibson _ had one assist and one steal for Great Britain, which lost a consolation round game to Russia, 11-9, on Tuesday. Gibson played for the Hawks in 2008.
Great Britain, winless in these games, will play Italy at 9:30 p.m. Thursday in the seventh-place game.
Krikorian's blunder almost cost the U.S. a spot in the final.
In a bruising match between the favorites coming into the London Games, the Americans appeared to have the win wrapped up in regulation after Australia captain Kate Gynther's shot rattled the crossbar in the closing seconds.
But with one second on the clock, Krikorian called a timeout without his team having possession of the ball -- an automatic penalty. Ash converted the shot to tie it at 9 and force overtime.
"We looked at each other and said 'We've been through this before,'" Steffens said of the team huddle ahead of the extra session. "Nothing's going to affect us. We're going to be the team that finishes this. We knew that whatever it came down to, we're going to keep fighting."
And the Americans did just that, with Steffens leading the way on the offensive end.
The 19-year-old Steffens, who raised her tournament-leading total to 16 goals, put the U.S. ahead halfway through the first of two three-minute overtime periods with a skip shot, setting of raucous "USA! USA!" chants from the crowd in the packed water polo arena in the Olympic Park. Then Craig slotted home from close range to finish the scoring and give the Americans another shot at their first gold medal in the women's event.
Even on a team with two four-time Olympians -- Brenda Villa and Heather Petri -- playing in their last games, there may have been no one more relieved on the U.S. bench than Krikorian.
"I was feeling horrible. There's thoughts that go through your mind: 'Man, I might have blown this one,'" he said of his timeout call. "It's all a bit of a blur, but ultimately I made a big mistake. ... To be honest, after it happened, it took me a couple of minutes to take a deep breath and realize what I had done and get out of the funk."
But the team's response to his mistake, he said, was evidence of just how much the squad has developed since he took over in 2009.
"When you mess up, you've got to own up to it. They came over and I said, 'My bad.' This is not going to stop us," he said. "We've made mistakes before and we've overcome a lot of adversity over the last three and a half years so one stupid call by the coach isn't going to affect the team's performance."
The U.S., long one of the world powers in women's water polo, has medaled in the tournament at every Olympics since the game debuted in 2000, but it has never won gold. It earned silver in Sydney, bronze four years later in Athens and then silver again in Beijing in 2008.
For Australia, the loss was doubly painful, coming four years after the loss to the U.S. in the semifinals at Beijing.
"It's pretty devastating after four years of hard work," Ash said. "We never gave up, but it just wasn't there at the end. Credit to the USA. They put up a very good fight."
In Tuesday's other semifinal, Anni Espar Llaquet scored four goals to lift Spain past Hungary and into the final in the country's first ever appearance in women's Olympic water polo.
"We wanted to play and win every single match with the objective of making it to the final, and we've done that," Spain captain Jennifer Pareja said. "We started a four-year project, brought in a new coach and put the emphasis on young players with the goal of making the Olympics, and now we're in the final."
It will not be the first time the U.S. and Spain have played in London. The teams tied, 9-9, in the preliminary stage after the Americans let a three-goal lead slip away late in the fourth quarter.