Twenty-five minutes into the game against Pomona-Pitzer (3-5-2, 3-3-1), Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (3-3-3, 3-2-2 SCIAC) midfielder Michael Crowley CM ’17 saw the Stags’ first shot at sliding in an opener. The midfielder muscled his way past the P-P defensive line to convert a long cross from backfield. He was quick to gamble at the far post, attempting to angle in an effort to put the Stags in front. The ball snuck through the fingertips of goalie Ben Mitchell PZ ‘18, only to graze the far post and roll wide.
The missed opportunity was the first of quite a few in the men's soccer Sixth Street rivalry showdown on Saturday, Sept. 26, which ended in a scoreless 0-0 tie. In a total of two halves and two overtimes, fans at Pritzlaff Field witnessed the Stags bombing down the left and right flanks. For all of CMS’s dominance, however, the Sagehens held on and never buckled.
Much of the Sagehens’ endeavor relied on their defensive efforts and the pace of their wing players, who offered plenty of responses to the Stags’ attacking intents, allowing their team to escape the CMS home field unscathed. CMS outshot P-P 29-12, but none of the attempts broke the scoreless deadlock.
“It’s definitely a big sense of relief when you see them miss an opportunity, but it’s also a big positive when Ben is making a lot of saves,” forward Voja Maric PO ’17 said. “I think that gives a lot of the other players energy to work harder. And I think it gives us motivation to see that Ben is working his ass off in the goal, so it also makes everybody else want to work harder in the game.”
Taking heart in the resilience they had shown in the face of CMS, P-P went full on in overtime and came close to unlocking the Stags’ defense. Mitchell occupied the center of the P-P defensive energy, fending off all nine shots on target by the Stags, including two promising shots by forward Taylor Lemmon CM ’16 and midfielder Ryan Karle CM ‘17. The newly-recruited goalie is fitting in well and is looking toward a successful season.
“Ben’s definitely one of our better players. We had a great goalie last year with senior Nigel Brady, so Ben definitely has some big shoes to fill,” Maric said. “But I think he’s done it, no problem. He’s come in and had a lot of saves in a lot of games and kept us in a lot of times.”
The Stags fired seven shots in the first half hour. In the 21st minute, defender Mark Harris CM ’18 nearly got the Stags rolling with a header, narrowly nodding it over the net. Three minutes later, Crowley darted in from the left for an angled drive that hit the woodwork.
Gradually, P-P started to make their presence felt. Mark Raftrey PO ’16 was unlucky to see his header saved by CMS goalie Daniel Cui CM ’18, starting a sustained rush of pressure until the end of the first half. The last few minutes of the first half saw CMS strikers firing on all cylinders, but P-P backliners Chase Abelson PZ ’17 and Raftrey did well to prevent a P-P score deficit before halftime.
“I think we are just maybe possessing too much and not trying to penetrate enough, not really trying to get in behind,” Maric remarked. “Every time we did get behind them, they would usually just foul us or take us down and just take the free kick. So I think that is a good strategy going in.”
Physicality continued to be a disadvantage for the Sagehens’ offense in the second half. The pace picked up as both sides battled for control over midfield. The two teams combined for 16 shots and eight attempts on goal in the second half. Raftrey came close to sinking an 18-footer on the hour mark. Maric followed up on the momentum, almost bundling home from close range eight minutes later. Yet P-P saw its hope of taking lead snuffed out as Cui stepped up to clear both shots off the line.
In the 87th minute, P-P failed to completely clear a corner kick and CMS saw an opportunity to convert. Midfielder Mehron Abdi CM ’17 nearly buried home a low shot on a loose ball, only to have it batted away by Mitchell. No breakthrough occurred at the end of regulation.
“We went with two attackers later on [in overtime], so we switched from 4-5-1 to 4-4-2 in overtime, and I think that helped us attack a little more, because we have two strikers up top, ” Maric said. “It also helped us defensively because we were able to hold the ball more, so we weren’t just constantly getting attacked.”
The overtimes displayed strong firepower from both ends of the field, with six shots from CMS and four from P-P. Keepers Mitchell and Cui were kept busy between the sticks, but were able to clean up every mess for their own team. 102 minutes in, midfielder Alex Censullo CM ‘17 almost had a goal when he toe-poked the ball towards net in traffic at the top of the six-yard box, but to no avail. OT ended in a clean sheet for both sides.
Raftrey topped the Sagehens’ offensive effort with four shots and two on goal, while Lemmon totaled eight shots and one on target.
“We go into the game expecting to win, but I think the way the game went, they might have had more shots than us, may have played better than us,” Maric concluded. “But at the end of the day we got a clean sheet. We got one point. So it’s not the worst outcome.”
Though it may not have been the most glamorous game of the season, the Sagehens managed to steal away a point as they look to find their attacking form and work on team chemistry for the second half of the season.