Sagehens Finding Rhythm, Riding Three-Game Win Streak

The
Pomona-Pitzer men’s basketball team got their SCIAC season off to a winning
start on Wednesday night as they withstood a comeback effort from visiting California Lutheran University to win their conference opener and go to 4-2 on the season. The
Sagehens came out of the blocks with a positive start against the Kingsmen, hitting their first
seven shots to open up an 18-2 lead that looked to put them in a commanding
position to preserve their unbeaten record against NCAA teams this season. 

However, after the early salvo, Cal Lutheran succeeded in bringing themselves
back into the contest, finding a more consistent scoring touch while slowing
down P-P’s fluency on offense. After back-to-back three-pointers by Kingsmen Arik Smith
and Dan Wade late in the first half brought the deficit to a mere two points, it was clear there would be no blowout. The Sagehens went into halftime with a slender 35-32 lead.

The
visitors began the second half in the same manner that they ended the first. A jumper by Smith, who finished as Cal Lutheran’s leading scorer on the night
with 18, at 15 minutes remaining brought the Kingsmen their first lead
of the game, 44-43. Despite the impressive rally, P-P remained steady, with
Kyle McAndrews PO ’15, who went for 23 on the night, leading the effort. 

He was ably
supplemented by the likes of Xavyr Moss PZ ’14 and Jake Klewer PO ’14, who chipped
in with valuable contributions in the second half to propel the
Sagehens forward. After taking a 52-49 lead with 10 minutes to go, P-P kept their noses in front for the rest of the match, eventually pulling out to
a 67-56 advantage with just under three minutes to go. Another late Cal
Lutheran fight-back saw the gap closed to three points in the final minute, but
the Sagehens kept their composure to close out the victory.

The
win proved to be a true team effort, reflecting pre-game comments from Klewer,
a team veteran and one of the side’s most consistent performers. 

“Our biggest strength is our balance; we have a lot of different
guys who can impact the game in many different ways. This year is also pretty
unique in that we have a good mix of veteran leadership and newer players who
are ready to contribute to the team,” Klewer said. 

After opening the preseason with a defeat
of NCAA Divison III nationally-ranked University of St. Thomas, P-P hit a bit of a speed bump,
suffering back-to-back losses to two scholarship schools, NAIA
outfits Biola University and Westmont College. However, the Sagehens rebounded from those
disappointments with strong performances in the David Wells Classic,
an exhibition tournament hosted by P-P on Friday, Nov. 29, and Saturday, Nov. 30. A
pair of wins against University of California, Santa Cruz and Johns Hopkins University rounded off a fairly successful
preseason ahead of the SCIAC start.

The
first matchup against UCSC began with the Sagehens falling behind 17-7 early after
a fast start by the UCSC Banana Slugs, before a rally in the rest of the first half
saw host UCSC go into halftime with a slim 38-37 lead. It seemed as if the
match would be a tightly-contested affair, but P-P roared out of the gates at the
start of the second half, and a powerful 24-7 run in the first seven minutes
seemed to put UCSC on the ropes. From there P-P was able to hold its nerve
for the remainder of the encounter, brushing off a couple of late Banana Slug
runs for an 84-75 result. 

McAndrews was an offensive force for the Sagehens,
notching a personal best of 25 points. The next day’s fixture, against Johns
Hopkins, saw Moss take the leading role as his 17 points proved vital in a
game that remained close for the whole 40 minutes. P-P threatened to run away early in the second half as they built upon a slim three-point
halftime lead to go in front 53-41 with just eight minutes left. A late Blue
Jays rally brought the game down to the wire, but in the end it was too little, too late from Johns Hopkins as the Sagehens held on for a 57-56 victory, which
saw Klewer and Nick Nordale PZ ’17 also make key contributions to the effort.

Neither
win saw P-P play at their best, but Klewer sees progress. “While the wins weren’t
necessarily pretty, they definitely give us a boost in confidence heading into
conference play. They also helped show us what areas we need to improve on to
perform our best in conference,” Klewer said. 

The solid play of returners like McAndrews,
Moss, and Klewer is another promising sign for the team, with longtime Head Coach Charles Katsiaficas identifying them, along with Michael Cohen PO ’15 and
John Weiss PO ’14, as experienced campaigners whose “leadership will be vital
throughout the season.” The win against Cal Lutheran will hopefully provide a
strong springboard for P-P, who have high expectations for the conference
season after reaching the SCIAC tournament in each of the past two years. Of
course, extending that streak will not be easy. 

“I think the league is very balanced this year, and conference play will
challenge teams to be at their best every night,” Katsiaficas said. 

Although it is too
early to be making any grand predictions or pronouncements, all early signs indicate
that this has the potential to be an exciting season for the Sagehens.

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