Fans of Sagehens and Stags alike with varying degrees of water polo knowledge flocked to Haldeman Pool Saturday night to watch the ultimate Sagehen-Stag fall season showdown. The Sagehens sought to protect their perfect SCIAC record and go into the SCIAC playoff tournament seeded solidly in first, threatened only by second-place Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, whose only loss to a SCIAC team came at the hands of California Lutheran University.
Amidst cheers and jeers, questionable referee calls, a malfunctioning shot clock, a rocky first half and a disappointing loss to the Air Force Academy the previous day, the Sagehens pulled off a 12-9 victory over the Stags. The Sagehens demonstrated their offensive depth throughout the game as seven members of the team contributed to the final goal count.
The game commenced following a short presentation honoring the five Sagehen seniors. CMS scored the first goal of the match, setting the tone for most of the first half. Ryan Higgins PO ’14 scored the first goal for the Hens in the next minute on a counterattack to tie the game, but CMS scored the next two goals, including one with 30 seconds left in the quarter.
The Sagehens found themselves battling through the first two quarters, finding ways to break CMS momentum and prevent the Stags from running away with the score despite missed shot attempts and a few offensive turnovers.
Jason Cox PO ’13 scored in the first Sagehen possession of the second quarter, but the Hens could not manage to carry that energy through the rest of the quarter. CMS scored again, followed by goals from Stephen Vint PZ ’15 and Travis Larsen PO ’16, tying the score at four with 34 seconds left in the half. The Stags immediately answered with another goal with 18 seconds left in the quarter to reclaim the lead and put the Sagehens’ hopes on hold through halftime.
The Stags threatened to take the game for good in the third quarter, scoring on back-to-back possessions to extend their lead to 7-4. Cody Moore PO ’13 broke the streak with a shot from the perimeter, followed by a perfectly executed point-blank shot off a six-on-five advantage from Jarrod Gaut PZ ’14. Cox scored again with less than a minute left in the quarter to tie the score at seven moving into the fourth.
Then the floodgates opened for the Sagehen offense. In nearly four consecutive possessions, Mark Hudnall PO ’13, Higgins and back-to-back goals from Vint gave the Hens an 11-7 lead before the Stags could break the 7-0 scoring run. A handful of key, point-blank blocks by goalie Tyler Hill PO ’14 shut down the Stag counterattack and frustrated their comeback attempts. Higgins scored again with two minutes left in the game, and, while CMS answered with an immediate goal ten seconds later, another crucial block from Hill with the game clock winding down prevented the Stags from making a crazy comeback.
The win puts the Sagehens 8-0 in SCIAC, securing first seed in the SCIAC tournament this weekend.
“I thought we did a really good job on the counterattack … and finished well in the second half,” Head Coach Alex Rodriguez said.
A large part of the Sagehen victories this season has been their counterattack. While their record shows their overall success in SCIAC, Rodriguez sees places that need work in each individual game.
“I still think we are struggling to play four quarters,” he explained. “Against Chapman, we were down 3-1 … CMS we were down 3-1 to start.”
He also noted the game against Air Force last Friday afternoon when the Sagehens started the game down 0-2 and suffered a 2-5 third quarter. Cox scored the first three goals for the Sagehens in the Air Force game, the first off a five-meter penalty shot, followed by a one-on-nobody counterattack goal and a shot from the perimeter in the first possession of the second quarter to put the Sagehens up 3-2 at the beginning of the second. Hudnall scored next on a beautiful bar-in shot to give the Sagehens a 4-2 lead, but that was the best the Hens could get.
The third quarter started off well for the Hens, with Cox scoring again in the first minute. Air Force scored the next five, however, and while Gaut added another for the Hens with two seconds left in the third, the Hens could not bounce back in the fourth. The Hens maintained a strong counterattack throughout the game but could not convert all their shot opportunities. Hill had another strong performance, blocking some close-range skip shots.
The Sagehens came away with a victory where it mattered in SCIAC standings, however, and they look to remain undefeated in SCIAC through the tournament at Whittier College this weekend to gain the official 2012 SCIAC championship. They will first play the winner of the Caltech-Occidental College matchup Friday, followed by the winner of Whittier and University of Redlands in the semifinal Saturday should they win the Friday match.
The Hens may be the crowd favorite, but to their opponents, they are the team to beat. The SCIAC tournament traditionally has been filled with surprises, but the Sagehens will look to defend the record they attained through the regular season.