CMS Men's Water Polo Comes Up One Goal Short, Falls to Whittier 13-12 in SCIAC Finals

Christian Thornton winds and fires for one of his five goals on the match
Christian Thornton winds and fires for one of his five goals on the match

WHITTIER, Calif. - The Claremont-Mudd-Scripps men's water polo team played top-seeded Whittier to a near-stalemate, but the Poets opened up a fourth-quarter lead and held on for a 13-12 win over the Stags in the championship game of the SCIAC Postseason Tournament on Sunday morning.

Both teams will next advance to the USA Water Polo Division III Championship on Dec. 7-8, which Whittier earned the right to host with the win on Sunday. CMS, which falls to 17-11 on the year with the loss, will join Whittier, Johns Hopkins and MIT in the first Division III Championship, with semifinal matchups to be determined.  

CMS led 3-2 after the first quarter and went into halftime tied 7-7, but Whittier scored the first two goals of the second half and the Stags were never able to tie the score, despite a five-goal effort from junior Christian Thornton. CMS was hurt by foul trouble to senior Ethan Lewis, the team's leading goal-scorer, who played less than 10 minutes in the contest after picking up his second exclusion in the first minute of the second quarter, and then fouling out with his third moments after finally returning to action early in the fourth. 

The Stags were down just 10-9 heading into the fourth after a goal from sophomore Will Clark in transition closed out the third. Whittier scored the next two goals to take a 12-9 lead with 4:41 to go to put the CMS backs against the wall. Senior Zack Rossman converted a five-meter penalty shot to close within 12-10, and the Stags had two chances to cut it to one, including a 6-on-5 chance, but Dylan Woodhouse came up with a big save to keep it a two-goal game. 

With CMS pressing, Paul Pittion scored with 1:26 to go to seemingly put the game away, but Thornton scored his fourth to make it 13-11 with 54 seconds left, and the Stags came up with a quick steal off their pressure defense, and Woodhouse made a big save with 35 seconds left to thwart any CMS comeback hopes. Thornton added one last goal on a five-meter with two seconds left, but the Poets were able to kill the final two ticks off the clock to secure the title. 

Junior Koss Klobucher got CMS started on its first possession with a 6-on-5 goal 50 seconds in, but Whittier answered with the next two to take a 2-1 lead. Sophomore Eric Warmoth scored on a 6-on-5 to tie it, and Sam Harrison put the Stags in front with 56 seconds left in the first quarter at 3-2. 

Whittier scored the first two goals of the second quarter to move ahead 4-3, but sophomore Andrew Wraith and Rossman each scored to give CMS a 5-4 lead with 2:15 to go. Rossman's goal started a stretch of six straight goals on six straight possessions for both teams, as the Poets answered two goals from Thornton to pull even at 7-7 heading into halftime. 

CMS was 4-for-5 on its power play opportunities, while Whittier was 3-for-10, and the Stags had a 32-24 advantage in shot attempts on the day, but came up short. Woodhouse had seven second-half saves for Whittier and allowed five goals (two on penalty shots) to get the win, while sophomore Noah Smith had eight saves and three steals in the loss. 

CMS and Whittier could meet again for the fourth time this season in the USA Water Polo Championship if they can both win their semifinals. The Poets have won two of the three meetings so far, including today's SCIAC finals, while CMS handed Whittier its only SCIAC loss at Axelrood Pool 10-9. CMS has also had one matchup with Johns Hopkins this season, falling 9-8 at the Gary Troyer Invitational on Oct. 5 at home.