Sagehen Water Polo Overcomes Rival Stags in 9-5 Win to Move to 2-0 in SCIAC Play

After a loss to Chapman, the men’s water polo team were determined to curb their losing streak before it started. That’s exactly what Pomona-Pitzer did Wednesday night by defeating Sixth Street rival CMS, 9-5.After a 10-5 loss at Chapman on Saturday, Coach Alex Rodriguez acknowledged, “we had a little something to prove,” and the team brought a little extra to the CMS game.After the Sagehens failed to convert consecutive six-on-five power plays in their first two possessions, it looked like the team was still recovering from the non-conference loss. But the momentum swung when Ben Hadley PO ’11 chased down a CMS player on a break-away and stole the ball from the unsuspecting Stag.“That was the moment I knew we were going to win,” Hadley said.On the very next possession, Robbie Hayes PO ’10 unleashed his back-hand skip shot (also known as “the finisher”). Finish it did, as the ball skipped under the arm of the CMS goalie to give P-P a 1-0 lead at 4:07 in the first.CMS scored at 2:11 to tie the game at one, and after eight minutes of relentless defense and nervous offense on both sides, that was how the first quarter ended.The second quarter started much the same, with Hayes starting the scoring once again on a dominating inside move with 5:42 in the period. The goal elicited chants of “ROBBIE, ROBBIE, ROBBIE,” further confirming his rock-star status in these parts. Hayes had taken the loss to Chapman particularly hard, and it showed in the intensity of his play Wednesday night.“It was really nice to see Robbie have a good game after all he’s meant to the program,” Rodriguez said. “He’s our senior captain and emotional leader. He’s been a little under the weather recently, so it’s really nice to see him have a good game like we know he can.”Water polo spectator Jonathan Gottfried PO ’10 was also impressed by Hayes’ skills in the pool.“I came for the bathing suits, stayed for Robbie Hayes,” he said.Despite letting both teams play for the most part, the refs called subsequent ejections on both teams in the final minute of the first half, and Pomona-Pitzer went into the locker room up 3-2. The first half was characterized by physical play and a lot of no calls by the men in white (the referees if you don’t follow polo). Rodriguez was visibly upset with the officials and let them hear about it at halftime.In the second half, the scoring began to open up. Hayes quickly cemented his hat trick by converting a quick six-on-five restart pass from Jason Cox PI ’13 that left the CMS defense helpless.The Sagehen offense continues to roll, as Cox scored once with the shot clock winding down and again on a one-timer triggered by Hadley to put Pomona-Pitzer up 6-2.In the meantime, the Sagehen defense remained relentless, giving CMS no breaks, hitting the crossbar twice. Clearly, the polo gods were not smiling on the Stags. “The defense made my job very, very easy,” said goalie Kyle Pokorny PO ’12, who had five saves in the game. “A combination of missed shots, field blocks, and good crashes made my life easy.”However, with a chance to put the game away, an errant Sagehen pass on a six-on-five gave CMS a breakaway opportunity. The intended target, Mark Hudnall PO ’13, got ejected trying to prevent an easy goal, but the Stags scored on the advantage to keep the game interesting at 6-3 after three quarters. The Sagehens controlled the third on both offense and defense, but they missed a golden opportunity to put the game away.Despite missing opportunities, it was clear that the Sagehens were not only the better team, but they had a little luck on their side as well. In the midst of a five-on-three odd-man rush, the CMS shooter once again hitting the crossbar. Pokorny then threw a perfect lob pass down the pool, and Cox put it in the back of the net for a 7-3 lead.Ryan Balikian PO ’11, in an attempt to crush the spirit of CMS, scored on a highly contested, back-handed, no-look shot with 5:06 left that caused at least one fan to bow in the realization that he was not worthy to be in the presence of such a play.After a quick CMS reply, an ejection with 3:00 remaining gave Pomona-Pitzer a chance to clinch the game. The team went to their two most proven players, as fellow juniors and lifelong acquaintances Balikian and Hadley passed the ball back and forth on top, with Balikian ultimately firing the final dagger to give the Sagehens an insurmountable 9-4 lead with 2:40 showing on the clock. One last CMS goal made the final 9-5, bringing the Sagehens’ record up to 2-0 in SCIAC and 11-11 overall, and capping off a solid turn-around for the team after its loss to Chapman.“The previous game means nothing,” Rodriguez said of the team’s performance. “Every game we have to compete and play hard. We can’t hope that momentum will carry us, because the present game is the only one that matters that day.”The coach’s point is well taken.P-P travels to Occidental this Saturday, where the team will be looking to top .500 for the first time under the Rodriguez regime before taking on number eleven UC San Diego at home in the afternoon. On Wednesday, the Sagehens host perennial SCIAC powerhouse Redlands at 7 p.m. in what promises to be an emotion-filled battle.“Big for SCIAC, big for D3, and always a good game,” Hadley commented on the Redlands match-up.Besides avoiding losing streaks, a good team must be able to put together sizable winning streaks. With a winnable game against Occidental, a challenge against UC San Diego, and a big game against Redlands, the Sagehens’ performance next week will tell us a lot about what kind of team we have on our hands.

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