Powered by theatrical goals and a game-changing display of thuggery by the La Verne keeper, the Sagehens recorded a 3-1 victory on Saturday and sent La Verne packing in disgrace. The win capped off P-P’s impressive season turnaround—they have gone 6-1 in the second round of conference play after a dismal 1-6 start that included a particularly ignominious loss to perennial SCIAC whipping-boy Caltech.
Tensions were running high at kickoff, as the winner of this game would earn the final berth in the SCIAC tournament. La Verne’s field, affectionately nicknamed “The Shithole” by visiting players, was in its usual form: torn to shreds with a quarter of the field situated on the infield dirt of the adjacent baseball diamond. Even worse, it seemed as though the field’s drainage system was about as effective as a New Orleans levee—it left the pitch sopping wet and players slipping everywhere, even on a sunny day.
Despite the poor field conditions, the opening half was well-played by both teams. P-P drew first blood at minute 34 when captain Zach Mirman PO ’11 outmuscled a La Verne defender at the top of the box and sent a volley screaming goalward. The ball was probably headed for the back of the net anyway, but once it took a slight deflection off a defender, the keeper was completely out of position and powerless to stop it.
The lead was short-lived, however. Just eight minutes later, La Verne’s star center midfielder (and incidentally, the only player on any team that could possibly challenge Erik Munzer PZ ’13 in a contest of strength) Taylor Hart launched a 35-yard rocket past P-P keeper Rollie Thayer PO ’13 to make it 1-1. Going into the half, two yellow cards had already been issued, and the game was shaping up to be a gladiatorial struggle.
Events at the beginning of the second half radically altered the course of the game. When Emmett Choy PZ ’14 played a through ball just beyond the reach of Gator Halpern PO ’12, the then La Verne keeper came out to intercept it. It seemed at first to be an innocuous play—Halpern slowed down and moved out of the goalie’s path as he picked up the ball. But then, for reasons no one will ever know, the keeper stood up and delivered a vicious WWE-style elbow directly to Halpern’s face, sending him sprawling onto the field. The referee came sprinting over, yellow-carded the keeper, and awarded a penalty kick.
For a few minutes, chaos reigned inside the goal box. Halpern, bleeding profusely from his nose and face, was treated by the medical staff—he would eventually go to the hospital and receive stitches, but luckily he escaped with no major injuries. The La Verne goalie began arguing with the referee and received another yellow card within minutes. This second yellow resulted in a red card, meaning the Leopards would have to play the rest of the match a man down. Their players and fans protested—their coach even got a yellow card for persistent dissent—but it’s unclear what everyone was arguing about, given that their goalie was about as subtle as The Rock delivering a People’s Elbow.
La Verne substituted a goalie in to defend the penalty kick. Problem is, La Verne only has one goalie on its official roster, so the replacement was middling at best and certainly not experienced at stopping PKs. Mirman scored his second goal of the day from the penalty spot and celebrated by running the entire length of the La Verne sideline.
Down a man on the field and a goal on the scoreboard, La Verne nevertheless mounted a valiant attack. They got down into P-P’s defensive third of the field, although from there, La Verne’s primary strategy seemed to be to dive and beg the referee to give either Munzer or Eben Perkins PO ’11 a second yellow. When that strategy failed, they pushed more defenders forward and left themselves vulnerable to counterattacks. Several times, promising P-P attacks were nipped in the bud by offside calls.
With four minutes to go, it was P-P leading scorer Danny Nasry PO ’13 who provided the insurance for the Sagehens. While running at full speed on a breakaway and being mauled by a much larger defender, Nasry somehow found a way to chip the ball over the replacement keeper and just inside the far post—a brilliant goal that ensured that La Verne’s acknowledgements of its senior players (inexplicably held after the game) would be spoiled.
By press time, the Sagehens will already have played their next game against the #1 University of Redlands. If they win, the date, time, and location of the SCIAC final will be posted on the Pomona-Pitzer athletic site, pe.pomona.edu.