Based on the score at halftime Saturday, you wouldn’t have known the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (9-3-1, 6-1-1 SCIAC) and Pomona-Pitzer (3-8-2, 2-5-1 SCIAC) men’s soccer teams had been duking it for 45 minutes. The score was still 0-0.
But in the second half, the Stags made a breakaway, netting two goals and bringing the end tally to 2-0 over the Sagehens.
“[Pomona-Pitzer] did have some good chances in the first half,” midfielder and forward Cole Smith CM ’20 said. “But we knew that we had so much more to give and to show, and I feel like it just took that 15 minutes at halftime for all of us to get our heads on straight and figure out what we needed to do, and I feel like we executed our game plan a lot better in the second half.”
P-P came away from the first half with a 4-2 edge in shots, including one 15 minutes in by Jorge Guillen-Lopez PO ’23, saved by the Stags’ Eduardo DeAnda HM ’22 in goal, as well as one in the final minute by Graeme Logan PZ ’23 that ended up wide of the right goalpost.
With the pressure that P-P had been applying on offense, it seemed that the Hens were poised to unlock CMS’ defense any minute and drive it home in the second half.
But the Stags didn’t let that happen.
“In the second half, one of the adjustments we made was to come out with a lot of fire and intensity and really press high up the field to try and force turnovers from them,” center forward Will Barton CM ’22 said. “The energy we brought kind of led to those goals for us.”
Smith scored the Stag’s first goal eight minutes into the second half, controlling the ball to the right of the field under one-on-one pressure from a defender and moving it to the center, keeping it low and preventing a save by P-P goalkeeper Jonathan Rushton PO ’22.
After the initial point, the Stags were able to maintain momentum and fired off shots consistently, leading the Sagehens 15-2 in shots and 5-0 in corner kicks during the second half.
Smith commended his team’s ability to recover from a slow start and continue to improve throughout game play.
“That’s an important thing going for us because we have hopes of playing in the NCAA tournament, and we’re not going to get out to the best start every game,” Smith said. “So just proving to ourselves that we can make changes on the fly and adapt to what’s going on is really important.”
Five minutes after Smith’s goal, Barton came close to securing an insurance point for the Stags, but his shot hit off the crossbar. Later, a free kick by midfielder Henry Kraham CM ’21 deflected off the right goalpost, keeping the score at 1-0.
It wasn’t until the 74th minute that Jake Allmon CM ’23 netted the goal that would decide the end total, getting his shot in from the edge of the six-yard box off a rebound initially saved by Rushton.
Overall, Rushton had two saves for the Sagehens compared to DeAnda’s one for CMS.
“I think the first goal may have sucked a bit of our energy away,” Eamon Stein PO ’21 said, of their opponent’s initial goal. “And we learned that in those moments, we should come out with even more energy … to try and get that goal back so we’re back on level playing terms.”
Despite the disappointing end result, the Sagehens expressed pride in their performance at the outset.
“What I’m proud of is how we fought and battled in the first half,” Jack Arnold PO ’21 said. “We really gained momentum, and that’s exactly what you want to do.”
The loss comes amid a slew of injuries for P-P that of course has only compounded the team’s challenges.
“This year more than other years, we’ve had injury issues kind of giving us an inconsistent starting lineup, which is always a little hard when your lineup is changing from game to game,” Stein said.
CMS has been experiencing similar issues.
“Some of the biggest challenges we’ve faced so far are obviously some injuries to some key players,” Adam Singer CM ’20 said. “We’ve had to have guys who maybe weren’t in the … starting team who’ve had to step up in big moments.”
And the team is well aware of the remaining obstacles to overcome, regardless of their winning record. CMS won the SCIAC regular season last year, so the pressure to perform is high, midfielder Nate Huntington CM ’21 said.
The stakes are high for the Hens as well, who have a youthful team in addition to the abundant injuries. But the team has risen to the occasion, Stein said.
“I think something different about this year that we should be proud of is the fact that there’s so much leadership coming from everywhere in the team, because we only have one senior on the team right now,” he said. “So, people from [every class] have to step up and be leaders this year.”
Arnold added that the team’s close bond has helped with this challenge.
With Saturday’s win, CMS continued an eight-game undefeated streak and has jumped a whopping 14 spots to eighth in the latest United Soccer Coaches Division III poll, matching their highest ranking of the 2019 season.
“It’s super cool to get that recognition, I think we deserve it, but with that said we still have a lot of games left before the NCAA tournament and a lot of things to prove,” Smith said.
His teammates share this ambition.
“We’re not settling for No. 8,” Singer said. “We still have more to prove … and we’re coming to show the rest of the country that we’ve got more in us.”
The Stags will appear in action again Saturday against La Verne. The Sagehens will face off against non-conference opponent UC Santa Cruz the same day.