When Pomona-Pitzer (P-P) plays rival Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS), anything can happen.
On Jan. 27, P-P fans filled the Rains Center to watch the Sagehens (then 4-1 in league play) take on the SCIAC-undefeated Stags (5-0 in league play).
This year, the “anything can happen” philosophy took on an ironic twinge, as both teams did anything but make shots.
The Sagehens won 47-36 despite shooting only 27.3 percent from the field. The Stags managed to do even worse, at 23 percent for the game. 6’8” Justin Sexton PO ’10 played a key role in the Sagehen win, grabbing a game-high 25 rebounds to go with 11 points.
P-P’s defense was stifling, which certainly contributed to the Stags’ low scoring. Despite their own poor shooting performance, the Sagehens proudly accepted the victory over their rival as a crucial win against the top team in the league.
“There’s always more energy in the gym when we play CMS, and it’s nice to have campus bragging rights,” noted David Liss PO ’10.
Liss was instrumental in the Sagehens’ victory, with three consecutive long-range jumpers late in the second half.
Sexton said he is proud of the team’s continued home success in his time at Pomona. “There is always a great atmosphere at the games, and being able to win at home against [CMS] for the fourth straight year was awesome,” he said.
Adam Chaimowitz PO ’10 came through in the clutch and closed the game out by sinking four straight free throws to hold off the visiting Stags’ late charge.
The Sagehens’ victory over CMS was important to their SCIAC standings, as it brought them into a tie for first place with the Stags at 5-1 in the conference.
However, while the emotional win was well received by fans and players alike, P-P has faltered in the three games it has played since, while CMS has strengthened its grip on first place. The Hens managed to sandwich a 17-point home victory over La Verne between close road losses to Occidental and Whittier, but the losses brought the Sagehens from a tie for first in the conference into an tie for third with Occidental at 6-3. As of press time, the Sagehens sit at 6-3 in league, and 10-10 overall. Meanwhile, the Stags have rebounded from their rivalry loss to post three straight victories, claiming sole possession of first place at 8-1.
While it may appear that the Sagehens are suffering a letdown after their big win in the rivalry game, Sexton was quick to point out that the team is aware that the victory only counted for one win in the standings.
“In the grand scheme of the league, the CMS win was just another game. There’s a lot of time left in the league and we need to keep working towards the end of the season,” Liss added.
While the Sagehens have hit a bump in the road recently, they are still in a position to make the conference tournament and have rebounded well from a tough non-conference schedule that has left them even in the overall standings. Liss believes that this difficult early schedule prepared the team well for the rigors of SCIAC play. He pointed to games against top Division-III schools Washington University in St. Louis and San Diego State as games that reminded the team how hard they needed to work.
Coach Charles Katsiaficas pointed toward the seniors’ excellent leadership and energy as highlights of the season. He has been particularly impressed by Sexton’s performance on the glass, saying, “Justin’s consistency game in and game out on the boards is a must.”
Sexton has indeed been playing well recently, notching consecutive double-doubles against La Verne and Whittier.
The big man was quick to point out the contributions of his point guard, Liss. “Dave has done a terrific job all season for us, both as a leader and as our point guard. He has handled the responsibility of running our offense and guarding quick perimeter guards really well,” Sexton said.
Sexton particularly noted Liss’s improvement in the defensive aspect of his game, particularly in denying dribble penetration to opposing point guards.
Liss and Sexton have both played key roles in the success of the P-P men’s basketball team. However, they are both quick to highlight the contributions of other key players on the team. Both Liss and Sexton said that Chaimowitz’s performance has been instrumental for the team’s success. Liss even went as far as calling Chaimowitz “Mr. Clutch” for his excellent performances in the stretch run of many games this season. Liss and Sexton also mentioned Colin Reinstedt PI ’10, who has become a vocal leader for the team while also playing excellent defense, and Kael Kristof PO ’10, whose defense and enthusiasm have been instrumental in keeping the team motivated. Clearly, team chemistry and defense are two crucial attributes for this team’s success.
The Sagehens are approaching a vital stretch in their season. They must make sure that they finish in the top four in the conference, so they can compete in the conference tournament and earn a birth in Division-III March Madness. Two years ago the Sagehens beat the Stags in the SCIAC championship. “Hopefully we…get a chance to play against them for the SCIAC Championship,” Sexton said.