THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Looking for their first Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) victory of the season, the Cal Lutheran men’s water polo returned to the Samuelson Aquatics Center this afternoon after nearly a month on the road. Battling to the bitter end, the Kingsmen used composure coupled with the energy from the crowd to come up with a much needed 14-13 overtime thriller against Whittier to get into the win column in league action.
At the end of each regulation quarter the teams were tied. It was not until the first overtime period that the Poets broke that trend and were able to maintain the lead going into the final three-minute OT. CLU used a pair of late goals from Mike Arteaga, including a buzzer beater, while holding Whittier off the board to take the game and send the entire venue into a frenzy.
The teams were as evenly matched as could be today, despite WC entering with a 2-0 league record and CLU coming in winless at 0-2, proving that the conference is a well-balanced one. The Poets scored first, but it was the last goal that made all the difference.
“Whittier is a great team,” head coach Craig Rond said after the game. “I think our guys kept to a good game plan and maintained a high level of energy even in difficult moments.”
Throughout the contest the momentum continually shifted and the teams were knotted a total of 10 times. The squads exchanged three goals in the opening period, each tacking on two more in the second to go into the intermission locked at 5-5 before each netting four in the third and rounding out regulation with a pair apiece. WC outscored CLU 2-1 in the first OT, but it was the Kingsmen who controlled the last period with a 2-0 showing.
WC took a trio of two-goal leads at 8-6, 9-7 and 11-9.
In the final minute of the third the Kingsmen got just what they needed with back-to-back goals from Max Zappas and Spencer McGrath to go into the final frame at 9-9.
Midway through the fourth Whittier took a timeout and the Poets came out of the huddle rejuvinated, scoring twice to go ahead with four minutes to play.
A one-on-one breakaway by Arteaga led to a kick out for the Kingsmen. That advantage allowed Arteaga to be alone against the WC goalie, pump faking before finding the back right corner of the net to pull the Violet and Gold back to 11-10. CLU got another quick break as Zappas tied things for the eighth time of the game at 11-11.
Early in the game the difference maker was in the defense as David Sparks tallied two field blocks and goalkeeper Jesse Owen had a huge block in the first eight minutes of action. Sparks finished with three field blocks and Owen recorded eight saves. Zappas had a game-high six steals at the defensive end of the pool and Owen stole the ball three times from his post in front of the net.
For CLU, three players had hat-tricks including Arteaga, AJ Franklin and Taylor McMaster. Zappas tacked on a pair of goals and Hunter Hamaker skipped a shot to the back of the net with McGrath and Shea Craig rounding out the scoring.
Zack Card was responsible for three assists with McGrath and Zappas both chipping in with two. Zappas also led the squad with five drawn ejections and Arteaga finished with two.
Whittier (12-12, 2-1 SCIAC) was paced by Goran Mataic who led all players with six goals. Wedge Molthen had a hat-trick for the Poets, too. Ryan Brunansky played the whole game in front of the WC cage and recorded 13 saves.
Cal Lutheran (9-13, 1-2 SCIAC) will be back in action at the Samuelson Aquatics Center on Saturday, Oct. 26 when the Kingsmen host Claremont-Mudd-Scripps for an 11:00 a.m. SCIAC contest.