Old Pueblo (O.P.) Lightning is the Pacific South DII club champion, a title that took two come-from-behind playoff wins … decided in the closing minutes … on back-to-back weekends. In the semifinals, the Tucson team defeated Ventura on a closing-minutes penalty kick to win 23-22. In Saturday’s final, an injury-time try produced a 27-24 victory over Pasadena. The reward is a good one: a berth to the western portion of the DII national quarterfinals, which will be held in Tucson.
Read the full recap at The Rugby Breakdown...
Old Pueblo trailed Pasadena 24-15 at the half. Pasadena tested the Lightning’s decision-making under pressure, and errors followed. The Arizona team also struggled with the referee’s management of the tackle area, and penalties ensued, and then the yellow cards. As the second quarter kicked off, O.P. flyhalf Alex Rath, who kicked the game-winner against Ventura, was pinged for a sin bin, and Pasadena used the player advantage to add on 12 points.
“Dealing with those adversities is part of the game,” O.P. coach Swing DePoint said. “You can’t let it get in your head and need to deal with whatever’s in front of you. No one played cynically, though, and there was no mental tiredness.”
DePoint praised Pasadena’s proficiency in the execution of its forwards-heavy game plan. A good rucking and counter-rucking team, Pasadena also committed fewer errors and was able to build 10-12-phase campaigns. That said, the O.P. defense stood up in the second half and shut out its opponent.
The Lightning found some success out wide and put wing Kristina Aprahamian across for her second try of the day. Rath’s conversion made it 24-22 to Pasadena with plenty of time to play.
But that’s where the scoreline held for the next 30-plus minutes, even as O.P. received its second yellow card. Pasadena got its first sin bin in injury time, and the Lightning built a final attack. With about 30 seconds remaining and O.P. threatening Pasadena’s line, the Lightning knocked-on in the forwards.
“Everyone was screaming to the hooker that she had to win the ball,” DePoint recounted the pressure heaped on Morgan Haggerty during that final scrum. “She had an out-of-body experience and stole their hook. Four to six smash-mouth phases later, and [Deidre Kruckenberg] picked-and-go over the try line with no time left.”
The duo was critical in those final moments but they also stood out during the entirety of the match. Coach DePoint indicated that different players step up each week, and Haggerty and Kruckenberg were highlights in the SoCal final.
“Lots of things could have made it a lot easier for us before then,” DePoint reflected on the entirety of the game. “We’ve had our ups and downs in terms of on-the-field performance all year. … But we found a way to win and we’re building a culture of winning. It’s difficult too because there a lot of folks on the bench and you want to balance a culture of inclusion with the culture of winning.”
The DII national quarterfinals is the farthest that the Lightning has ever progressed, but the team is heading into the May 20-21 fixtures not only with home-field advantage but also the experience of pushing games to their absolute limit. That always comes in handy in the playoffs.