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Race for South Bay League roller hockey title heats up Phillip Brents | Fri, Feb 04 2011 10:09 PM

Each of the four teams that constitute the CIF-Metro Conference's South Bay League plays the other four times this season for a total of 12 league games out of 20 games total. It’s proven to be a highly competitive mix, with the Mar Vista Mariners and Sweetwater Red Devils moving to the forefront to challenge for the rights to this year’s league championship — and an automatic berth in the upcoming Kiwanis Cup championship playoffs.

With two weeks to play in the regular season, it remains a mystery as to which team will reach that goal.

“With each team in our league playing the other four times, it’s proven to be very competitive,” MV coach Ron Cole said. “We have a young team this season and we are gaining experience with each game.”

It’s likely the Mariners grew a lot while capturing a hard-fought 3-2 overtime decision over the Southwest Raiders Jan. 25 at Skate San Diego. Southwest held a 1-0 lead after shutting out the Mariners for two periods before Joey Sherman, who had missed the team’s previous two games because of bronchitis, scored both of his team’s final two goals, including the OT game-winner.

A victory by the Raiders would have made it a three-team championship race.

“We have a rivalry with Southwest — we have a puck painted with the colors of each school on each side and it goes to the winner of each game this season,” Cole said. “But the winner of the last game gets the bragging rights for the season, no matter how the series stands.”

The multi-colored puck might remain in the Mariners’ hands this season.

Mar Vista improved to 6-1 in league play following Monday’s 9-3 victory against the Castle Park Trojans. Hunter Calef led the Mariners (7-7 overall) with three goals and one assist while Sherman had two goals and one assist and Jordan Robinette and Alfredo Chavez each collected one goal and one assist. Andrew Medlock and Warren Miller each scored single goals.

Eric Kolar had all three goals for Castle Park, which dropped to 1-5 in league play, 2-11 overall.

But memories linger back to Mar Vista’s previous game — the overtime thriller against the Raiders.

It appeared as if both teams would settle for a scoreless tie through two periods when Southwest’s Martin Whitfield beat MV netminder Chas Van Horne with 3:14 remaining in the middle period.

Hunter Calef tied the game with a goal early in the third period, assisted by Sherman. With 6:16 to play, it appeared that Sherman might have scored the game-winner when he beat Raider goalie Sean Garcia. But Southwest had a surprise waiting three minutes later when Angel Rocha slid in the tying goal.

Each team had a golden chance to win the game in regulation but the contest was fated to go into overtime, where the Mariners claimed their second OT win this season — the first coming against Sweetwater prior to the winter break.

Sherman scored the game-winner unassisted by somehow slotting the puck through a traffic jam in front of Garcia, causing the rest of the Mariners to promptly break into a victory dance.

It was likely the most exciting game of the season for Mar Vista, which somehow managed to finally thwart Southwest’s magnificent defensive stand in the game.

“I was surprised it went in,” said Sherman, who finished the game with two goals and one assist. “I was falling as I shot it.”

Sherman, who was absent from the line-up in the Mariners’ 8-5 loss to Sweetwater on Jan. 18, had to catch his breath, both figuratively and literally, after scoring the OT winner.

“It felt crazy,” he said. “I had lost a lot being out two games. I had no stamina. It actually felt like I had been out longer than just one week.”

There have been three overtime games played in the 17-team conference this season and the Mariners have to feel charmed by owning two of those victories.

“I think the biggest thing to come out of that game was that we were playing as a team,” MV’s Jordan Robinette said. “Getting that overtime win really made us feel better about ourselves. It made the morale higher for our next game.”

Southwest coach Jerry Nestlerode, while disappointed by the loss, lauded the performance of both teams.

“I was pleased by our team’s performance as well as that of our opponent,” the Raider coach said. “It was an excellent game. It shows what hard work put in by both the players and coaches can accomplish. It was one of the best games I’ve seen played this year. Unfortunately, we came up a bit short. Hopefully, we can make it closer next time.”    

Meanwhile, Sweetwater continued pursuit of Mar Vista in the win column by defeating Southwest, 8-3, in Monday’s early game. The Red Devils improved to 5-1 in league play, 7-7 overall, with a make-up game pending against the Raiders.

Freddy Bradshaw led SuHi with two goals and two assists, followed on the score sheet by David Martinez and Shawn Trimmer, each with two goals and one assist. Earvin Buan and Josea Olmos each scored one goal.

In the Jan. 18 victory over Mar Vista, Martinez (four goals), Trimmer (three goals) and Bradshaw (one goal) combined for all eight of the Red Devil goals. Calef scored twice for the Mariners.

Mar Vista and Sweetwater play twice more this season: Thursday, Feb. 3, and Monday, Feb. 14.

“We’re taking the rest of the season one period at a time,” Cole quipped.

Nestlerode, who serves as a liaison to Jerry Schniepp, director of athletics for the Sweetwater school district, lauded the effort put in by every team in the conference this season.

“I’m happy with the direction the game is going, especially this year,” he said. “The games are more exciting with the realignment of the conference into four leagues. I’d like to see more schools from around the county get involved in our sport.”

As for the upcoming Kiwanis Cup playoffs, Nestlerode seems in agreement with the general consensus that at present there does not appear to be one clear-cut favorite.

“I think it’s significant this season that every team has at least one win and that every team has at least two losses,” he said. “I think West Hills in the Central League might have an edge in that league but in the other three leagues, its pretty much up for grabs. I’m really excited to see how it all pans out. At the top, I think there are four or five legitimate contenders who could win the whole thing.”

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