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CMS Men's Water Polo Falls 13-12 in Overtime in National Finals

CLAREMONT, Calif. - Cristian Pang's fourth goal tied the score at 12-12 and forced the national championship match into overtime, but Pomona-Pitzer scored the only goal of the six-minute extra session and earned a 13-12 win over the Stags in a Sixth Street Rivalry matchup for the second-ever USA Water Polo Division III national title.

The loss concludes the CMS season with a 17-12 record, as the Stags overcame a slow start which saw them drop their first meetings against Pomona-Pitzer, Cal Lutheran and Whittier in the first half of the SCIAC schedule and sit a distant fourth in the league standings.

CMS, though, surged in the second half of the schedule to pass Whittier and move into third place, and defeated Cal Lutheran in the SCIAC semifinals to earn a bid to the USA Water Polo Championships for the second time. The Stags also finished as the runner-up in the inaugural year of the tournament in 2019, falling 5-3 to Whittier. 

The Stags never trailed in the national championship match until the Sagehens went on a 4-0 run to take a 12-11 lead with 4:45 left in the game. Pang twice gave the Stags three-goal leads in the third quarter, converting with 3:11 left in the third to make it a 10-7 game, and answering a Sam Sasaki goal with another at the 39-second mark. 

Dylan Elliott answered back with 18 seconds left, and the Sagehens scored on a 6-on-5 on their first fourth-quarter possession to make it an 11-10 game. When Kyle Green scored with 4:45 to go to put Pomona-Pitzer ahead, it appeared that the Sagehens were putting another finishing run together late to dash the CMS upset hopes, as happened in the previous two meetings, including a 12-8 Pomona-Pitzer win in the SCIAC Championship when CMS led 6-5 in the fourth quarter. 

This time, though, CMS dug down, and had the answer as Pang came back after a timeout to knot the score up just 22 seconds left. The Stags then killed off back-to-back 6-on-5 chances, bucking a second half trend which saw the Sagehens score five of their six goals on the power play. 

CMS had two key defensive stops late, with Noah Smith making a save with just over a minute to play, and Rob Driscoll stealing the ball away in front of the cage with 15 seconds left. The Stags called a timeout and set up a play that resulted in a deflected shot. The rebound came out to Driscoll, who threw a quick pass to Gavin Rosser to the left of the cage, who had a shot at the championship-winner from a sharp angle, but Pomona-Pitzer Kellen Grant was able to slide over and not give Rosser much net to shoot at, making the save to force the championship into extra time. 

Neither team could score in the first overtime, and Ben Sasaki converted on the first possession of the second overtime for Pomona-Pitzer to make it a 13-12 game. CMS had a great opportunity to knot it back up on its next possession, but ended up with an unlucky break, as Christian Thornton's shot hit the inside of the post and stayed out. The Stags had one final chance in the closing seconds, but Will Clark was forced to shoot from a sharp angle, and Grant made the clinching save to give Pomona-Pitzer the title.

The Stags came out of the gate with confidence as Andrew Wraith scored the first goal of the contest 1:37 in, and CJ Box made it a 2-0 game with 5:34 left in the first. Pomona-Pitzer scored the next two goals, but Sam Harrison gave the Stags a 3-2 lead after the first, and then scored again to put CMS ahead 4-3 in the second. Wraith answered a Sagehen goal to make it 5-4, and Pang scored his first to give the Stags a 6-5 advantage, but Matija Jancic had his shot barely cross the line in the final minute of the half to make it a 6-6 game heading into intermission. 

CMS scored the first three goals of the second half, with Box scoring his second, and Len Korol and Driscoll each adding their first to make it a 9-6 game. Pang answered Pomona-Pitzer goals to make it 10-7 and 11-8, before Pomona-Pitzer had its 4-0 run to take its first lead. 

The Stags were the better 6-on-6 team on the day, scoring 11 even strength goals, compared to seven for the Saghens, but Pomona-Pitzer took advantage of its power plays, converting 6-11, compared to 1-7 for CMS. 

CMS loses a deep senior class this year, but will look to be back on the national stage again in 2022.