CLAREMONT, Calif. - The Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Men's Water Polo trailed 9-4 at the half, but mounted a second-half comeback to earn a 12-11 victory over Pomona-Pitzer, winning it on a long-range shot from senior Ethan Lewis to beat the shot clock with 37 seconds left, in the SCIAC Semifinals on Friday night at Axelrood Pool.
The Stags earn the right to face the No. 1 Whittier Poets in the SCIAC Finals on Sunday at Whittier, scheduled for 11 a.m. with the victory, and have also earned a spot in the USA Water Polo Division III National Championship tournament with the one-goal victory over the Sagehens, which will be held in the first weekend of December.
Lewis finished with a team-high four goals to lead the comeback, while sophomore Will Clark had three goals and four assists and junior Christian Thornton added a hat trick. Sophomore goalie Noah Smith finished with 11 saves.
"I think there's a lot of momentum for us going into the SCIAC Finals," said Lewis. "We came back, we never gave up. That's the kind of game that you live for."
Clark tied the score at 11-11 with 2:33 to go off a pass from senior Zack Rossman. Smith then came up with two saves and a steal to keep the game deadlocked, with the Stags calling a timeout after his steal with 1:04 left. CMS was forced out onto the perimeter, and with just one second on the shot clock, Lewis ripped the net from 10 meters out to break the tie and give CMS its first lead of the entire contest.
The Stags still needed one last defensive stop and after the Sagehens earned a 6-on-5, a last ditch shot from Joseph Schafer missed and CMS was able to kill the final 13 seconds.
The match began as if it would not be the Stags' night as Pomona-Pitzer used two straight goals from Tony Murphy to take a commanding 7-2 lead after the first quarter. Lewis started the second quarter with his first goal, but Pomona-Pitzer answered that goal and another from junior Koss Klobucher to take a 9-4 lead into the half.
The Stags held Pomona-Pitzer without a goal in the third quarter as they were able to inch a little closer at 9-6 after two goals from Clark in the final two minutes of the third. CMS then caught fire in the fourth, with Thornton pulling the Stags within 9-7 at the 7:34 mark and Lewis scoring back-to-back goals 43 seconds apart to tie it at 9-9 with 4:28 to go, completing a 5-0 run to start the second half.
Riley Mangan gave Pomona-Pitzer back the lead at 10-9 with 3:55 left on the first goal of the second half for the Sagehens, but Thornton came right back 26 seconds later to level it with his third goal. Schafer scored at the 2:49 mark to make it 11-10, but Clark responded 16 seconds later with the tying goal, before setting up the game-winner from Lewis.
All three Pomona-Pitzer vs. CMS matches in SCIAC play were decided by one goal, with CMS winning at Pomona-Pitzer 9-8, the Sagehens winning at CMS in the regular season 10-9 in overtime, and the Stags winning the all-important rubber match 12-11 to move on to the SCIAC Finals. CMS will be trying to win its first league title since defeating Whittier in 2015, after falling to the Sagehens in each of the last three years.
"I think for us, Pomona-Pitzer was the biggest hump," said Lewis. "You know they're a great team you know they're going to make plays. It's about trusting your ability to make plays against them. I think that's what we did, we didn't get rattled. I'm not going to lie, they did have us in the first half, but we came back, we stuck to our game and that's what mattered."