Water Polo edges Sagehens, notches first conference victory

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With a tie score and time winding down in the fourth quarter against Pomona-Pitzer on Saturday, Occidental women’s water polo attacker Morgan McClafferty (senior) caught a rebound and fired a shot into the back of the net. The goal boosted the Tigers to a 6-5 victory, their first triumph over the Sagehens in three seasons.

“I was so ecstatic about scoring the [game-winning] goal,” McClafferty said. “We haven’t beat [Pomona-Pitzer] since my freshman year. It was such a close, tight game, and winning at the last second was awesome.”

The contest also marked the black and orange’s first conference win of the 2014 campaign after previous losses to Cal Lutheran and Redlands.

All three league games have come down to the wire against top-ranked opponents, with a largest final score margin of only two points.

Occidental (3-16 overall, 1-2 SCIAC) opened SCIAC play at No. 4 Cal Lutheran on March 19. Occidental also entered the day with a top-10 national ranking at No. 6. Despite a competitive contest, the Regals narrowly escaped the Tigers, scoring two goals in the final 2:30 minutes to put the contest out of reach, 10-8.

After the tough road loss, No. 7 Occidental returned to Taylor Pool for its SCIAC home opener against No. 5 Redlands on March 26. The Tigers surrendered another hard-fought match, this time losing to the Bulldogs in the final minute, 6-5.

Utilizing a strong defense, the Tigers were able stalemate the Bulldogs for most of the game, going into the half tied 2-2. But Occidental could not capitalize on multiple chances to put Redlands away despite outshooting them 28-16.

“For most of the game, we were the dominant presence,” McClafferty said. “That was one of the lowest scoring games we have ever had in our pool. But what we were lacking in was finishing our offense.”

At Pomona-Pitzer’s Haldeman Pool, the black and orange once again found itself scrambling in the final moments to break a 5-5 gridlock. With a handful of seconds remaining, Kelsey Shyba (senior) drove to the goal and unleashed a shot that was blocked by the opposing goalie. But McClafferty recovered the ball and sunk a goal with just one second to go, finally claiming a decisive victory for the Tigers.

“I think it was not about us playing any better,” Shyba said. “I think we played really well both days. It was just about being able to think about it and mentally get through that fourth quarter and finish the game and put it away.”

Senior goalie Sofie Munoz anchored Occidental’s defensive effort, recording 15 saves in the contest.

“I think our fundamental play was the same as it has been all year; the difference this game was more mental,” Tiger head coach Larry Zubrin said via email. “We stayed focused on the game plan, didn’t get rattled by any mistakes and generally just had a lot of fun playing the game.”

The squad looks to get to .500 in league play on Saturday, hosting Whittier at 11 a.m.