The Pomona-Pitzer men’s soccer team secured a hard-fought win against rival Claremont-Mudd-Scripps on Saturday, Oct. 19, boosting their outside shot at a postseason run. The win also meant a season split between the Sixth Street rivals. Ahead of the match, CMS stood atop the SCIAC rankings, heavy favorites to secure one of the top four spots in the league that lead to the conference playoffs, while P-P languished near the bottom of the standings. The Sagehens were able to pull off a 1-0 upset, however, bringing P-P to one game below .500 at 5-6-1 and dropping CMS to a still impressive 9-3-1 in SCIAC.
The Sagehens then defeated California Lutheran University 1-0 on Wednesday, Oct. 23, giving P-P a 6-6-1 record in SCIAC to keep their playoff push alive.
Postseason aspirations aside, the Sagehens entered Saturday’s match looking to exact revenge after losing their previous encounter against CMS. When the two sides met earlier this season, the Stags won a tightly contested encounter that went to two overtime periods before the decider was slotted home by Ian Shelton CM ’17. The goal capped a CMS comeback after the Sagehens had grabbed the lead early in the first half. The two teams have had fairly differing fortunes since that early-season clash. For P-P, the theme of the season has been inconsistency, as they have struggled to put together results with any kind of regularity—their longest winning streak of the season is just two matches while their longest losing streak is three.
The Stags, on the other hand, have been among the SCIAC pacesetters, and they entered last weekend’s match on the back of a four-game winning streak where they outscored their opponents by a combined total 18-1. While CMS are heavy favorites to advance to postseason play, P-P sensed an opportunity to play spoiler and make the last few weeks of the regular season a little uncomfortable for their rivals, as well as restore greater respectability to the Sagehens’ own record. From the opening whistle, it became clear that P-P’s focus was to stifle the free-scoring tendencies of their opponents, especially since the Sagehens have struggled with getting regular offensive production. P-P looked to lock down the middle of the field, turning every 50-50 ball into a contest and making sure the Stags felt their physical presence.
The most obvious feature of the first half was how freely both teams committed fouls, intent on not allowing their opponents to get any fluency together on the ball. Those tactics helped the teams play to something of a draw in the first period, P-P getting off three shots to CMS’s four, with neither team looking in any real danger of threatening. The second half started in much the same fashion, but it was the Sagehens who were finally able to make the critical breakthrough. In the 51st minute, a ball played into the CMS box was improperly cleared and fell to the feet of P-P midfielder Nathan Shekita PO ’15, who made no mistakes as he converted from several yards out.
Shekita has been arguably the Sagehens’ standout performer this season, and it was fitting that he got the score to give P-P the crucial lead in the derby. Pomona reverted into a defensive shell after the goal, as they looked to sit back on their lead and challenge CMS to find a spark of creativity in their attack. The Sagehens’ defense was put under an immense amount of pressure, with centerbacks Geordie Marriner PO ’15 and Paul Picciano PO ’16 anchoring the back line against waves of Stag forays forward. Although the pair each put in good displays to keep the team stable as the midfield was increasingly overrun by desperate CMS players, they were not able to keep the home team from getting off some good attempts at goal. Keeper Nigel Brady PO ’15, another player who has impressed for the Sagehens this season, was called upon on seven occasions and came up with a few particularly good saves to keep the teams on level terms.
On the other hand, Brady’s counterpart Alex Choi CM ’17 had little to do in the second half, as the Sagehen attackers dedicated themselves to helping out as defensive reinforcements. In fact, Shekita’s goal proved to be the last shot P-P attempted for the entire match. The end of the game saw CMS go all out in an attempt to get a result: Stags forward Hogan Marhoefer CM ’16 had a couple of good attempts in the last 10 minutes, forcing Brady into some of his best saves of the match, with a couple of last ditch blocks required from a couple of P-P defenders on a few other occasions to keep Marhoefer at bay. In the end, the Sagehens’ effort paid off, with the final whistle securing an important victory. For CMS, the result was a disappointing blip on the homestretch of the season, as a postseason berth seems likely with just three games to go.
P-P needed a result against Cal Lutheran, and struck first with a first-half goal from Voja Maric PO ’17. One goal proved to be all the Sagehens needed as Brady recorded five saves in goal to preserve a 1-0 win. P-P, in sixth place after the win, must leapfrog both University of La Verne and Cal Lutheran in the standings to earn the final SCIAC playoff spot, but the Sagehens do not control their own destiny as they will not play either team again in their remaining conference games.
The Sagehens return to the pitch this Saturday, Oct. 26, to square off against Chapman University at 1 p.m.