The top-seeded Pomona-Pitzer men's water polo team earned a thrilling, 9-7 victory over second-seeded Whittier to secure the 2017 Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) Tournament championship Sunday at the Haldeman Aquatics Center in Claremont, Calif.
With the win, Pomona-Pitzer improves to 24-10 overall and earns the SCIAC automatic qualifier to the NCAA Championship. Whittier concludes its season 17-12 overall. The Sagehens, who posted a 13-1 regular season SCIAC record to earn their second consecutive top seed in the league tournament, have now won back-to-back SCIAC tournaments for the first time since 2011 and 2012.
Pomona-Pitzer was led by SCIAC Tournament Most Valuable Player Daniel Diemer who finished with 11 saves in the hard-fought win. His Whittier counterpart Murat Ersoz was also tremendous between posts turning away 13 shots in the loss for the Poets.
In the opening period, Carlos Heredia Viteri gave Whittier a 1-0 lead before Jacob Niskey evened the game at 1-1 for the Sagehens. Adam Ward then gave Pomona-Pitzer a 2-1 edge, but a goal by Whittier's Tim Aakhus leveled the game at 2-2 with 3:06 to play. With just one tick remaining in the first stanza, Riley Mangan gave the Sagehens a 3-2 lead after eight minutes of action.
A low-scoring second frame saw the Poets take a 4-3 lead as Hans Zdolsek fired in back-to-back markers. Pomona-Pitzer then answered through Mark Hallman who made it 4-4 at intermission.
At the 5:19 mark of the third quarter, Aakhus gave Whittier a 5-4 lead before the Sagehens went ahead, 6-5 on back-to-back scoring strikes by Joseph Schafer and Niskey with 3:29 to play in the period. Marc-Andre Roy responded just 14 seconds later for the Poets to even the game once more at 6-6, but the Sagehens used a goal by Dylan Eliott 18 ticks later to take a 7-6 advantage into the fourth quarter.
Clinging to its one-goal lead, Cade Curry and Noah Sasaki netted a goal each to give Pomona-Pitzer a 9-6 cushion with 4:35 to play, before Zdolsek fired in his third goal of the game to set the final score at 9-7.
The Sagehens now await their first opponent in the upcoming NCAA Championship which will be announced Monday morning.