The Leopards claimed a 10-9 victory against Claremont-Mudds-Scripps Wednesday. This is the second win in a row for the Leopards who now move to 4-6 in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
The game was a historic win for the Leopards – it was their first over the Stags since 2008.
“At least for me I was nervous, anxious, scared, a whole mix of emotions,” senior attacker Joey Sabers said. “I’ve played all four years and we’ve never beaten Claremont so it’s a pretty cool feeling.”
The game started with La Verne knocking on Claremont’s goal in the opening minutes of the match.
The Leopards quickly established a dominant four goal lead with only two and a half minutes left in the first quarter.
The Leopard defense seemed impenetrable for much of the first period, as the outfield traffic left sophomore goalkeeper Ryan Lehotsky with little work to be done.
Claremont shook off any nerves from the last two and a half minutes, answering La Verne’s pressure goal-for-goal.
The Stags caught the Leopards out of goal twice, then a miscue from Lehotsky cost the Leopards their advantage, tying the score, 4-4.
“We’d play too overzealous on offense and get called for on offensive foul that would lead to a goal,” head coach Pat Beemer said. “We jumped out ahead 4-0, and that’s exactly how they got their goals – from an offensive turnover on us, to a goal for them.”
The Leopards started the second quarter in style as senior center defender Rex Sample slammed home a skip shot into the top left corner of the Stag net. The Stags began to play a high press up the pool only for the Leopards to mirror the pressure.
The crowd held its breath when junior attacker Guillermo Ocacio was awarded the penalty after facing the cage when the Leopards offense put the ball into set midway through the second quarter. Ocasio converted the penalty shot and giving the Leopards the advantage, 6-5.
“When it comes to penalties I don’t overthink it,” Ocacio said. “If I miss, I miss. If I score, I score. I don’t get too hard on myself because if I miss, I work harder the next play.”
The Stag offense found it easier to carve a pumpkin than to find an opportunity against Lehotsky and the Leopard defense.
The keeper pulled off five saves in the quarter with one preventing the goal from trickling into the net in the opening moments. The keeper was able to preserve the Leopards’ 6-5 lead heading into the third quarter of the game.
“It was really stressful because when you have games so close like that, [but] I’d definitely rather win a game by that much rather than a lot,” Lehotsky said. “The guy’s brought their stuff and had the defense locked down.”
Claremont leveled the game on their first possession of the third quarter after senior attacker Zack Rossman squeezed one into the corner of the La Verne defense. The Leopards answered on their next possession, restoring their lead that the Stags had yet to establish.
The Leopards thwarted the Stags’ offensive pressure for their next few possessions but then they were unable to cook up anything on offense either. It was not until there were 2:15 left that Claremont found their offensive mojo once more and evened the score, 7-7.
Sophomore attacker Myles Storm got the stands erupting into cheers with his top corner strike as senior utility player Charles Ortega followed in his lead to give the Leopards a two-goal cushion closing out the third quarter with a 9-7 score.
“Going into the fourth was very exciting because we knew the position that we were in,” Sabers said. “As long as we kept doing what we had been, we’d be able to pull out with a win.”
The fourth quarter saw Claremont play much more reserved on defense, allowing La Verne to easily pass around the penalty box. A flashy finish and graceful chip from senior center Vasil Halchev added to the now three-goal headache Claremont had to deal with.
The Leopards began testing sophomore Claremont keeper Noah Smith with different long ranged effort from near the 20 foot mark of the pool. None were able to rattle the Stag keeper while Lehotsky also showed off his close range reflexes. His quick motions were able to deflect the Stags’ shots out wide, off the crossbar and off target.
“Ryan has been raising his game a lot, he had a really good game on Saturday against Oxy to get us a win,” Beemer said. “Today’s been the best I’ve seen it and if there’s a game ball, he gets it.”
With two minutes remaining, Claremont was able to cut their two goal deficit to just one after a deflected cross caught the Leopard defense on their heels, making the score 10-9. The Stags’ final attack came in the closing 25 seconds with Beemer calling a timeout to regroup his team before the final push.
Beemer rallied his team for the final push and told them not to panic in the waning moments of the game. The Leopard defense heard his words and stood their ground as they were able to stuff both of Claremont’s offensive conversions.
The Leopards will travel to Cal Lutheran at 11 a.m. Saturday for their next conference match.
Andrew Alonzo can be reached at email@example.com.