Pechanga Arena saw an evenly matched game on Sunday afternoon, but when all was said and done, the Seals had managed to beat themselves. The inability to finish opportunities in transition and an abundance of unforced turnovers led the Seals to a 12-9 loss at the hands of the division leading Saskatchewan Rush in their third home effort.
The defeat relegates San Diego to the bottom of the West Division with an overall record of 1-4, just barely saved from last place by their tiebreaking victory over the Vancouver Warriors in December.
“Same old stuff so far this season,” said head coach and general manager Patrick Merrill. “We found ourselves chasing the game because we made mistakes we should be able to avoid. Then you play a good team, and they make you pay for that.”
A quick glimpse at the stat sheet confirms just how easily this game could have gone the other way, and how significant those avoidable mistakes really were. While the Rush outshot San Diego 58-52, the Seals won the loose ball battle 73-70. To even things up even further, the two teams split face offs with 12 wins apiece and they each had four power play opportunities, Saskatchewan converting on three of them to San Diego’s two.
The most glaring difference in the game came down to transition play. The Seals failed to score on three separate breakaways that looked more like penalty shots than fast breaks. Those three points could have been the literal difference in the 12-9 loss. These missed opportunities aside, San Diego’s overall play was sloppy from start to finish.
“Those are little momentum plays that add up to a poor result,” remarked Merrill. “We focus on those things. We talk about those things a lot. The message after tonight is we gotta find ways to get better, however that is. As coaches, that’s us doing our work on film and providing some more situational stuff so there’s not so much pressure when they catch the ball. But for me, those types of mistakes are more between the ears, they’re more mental mistakes. These guys are the best lacrosse players in the world, so to see them drop passes like that, it means to me that it’s mental.”
The game saw solid defensive performances on both sides of the ball. Saskatchewan was simply able to find a little more offensive production in large part due to a 4 goal performance from forward Ben McIntosh. The Seals saw their production from the usual suspects, Connor Fields and Wesley Berg each notching two goals. They were accompanied by Jeremy Noble and Connor Kearnan who also contributed two goals apiece.
It was a contentious first half, the Seals answering Saskatchewan’s scores just often enough to keep themselves in the game. It looked like the Rush had a chance at running away with it towards the end of the second quarter, but forward Connor Kearnan dove across the crease and brought the Seals back to within two points with 6 seconds left on the clock. The game went to the halftime break 5-7.
The Seals came out guns blazing in the second half, forward Wesley Berg scored again just a minute into the third quarter with a beautifully handled high bouncer on goalkeeper Evan Kirk’s doorstep. The goal brought with it a significant increase in physicality with the two teams getting into a few feisty shoving matches between the whistles as the score cut Saskatchewan’s lead to just one at 6-7.
The Rush answered almost immediately with a fast break goal from captain Chris Corbeil, and from there the game was all Saskatchewan.
San Diego managed a few more goals before it was all over but the Rush kept them at arm’s length throughout the fourth quarter, closing the game out 12-9.
“We just dig ourselves a hole, climb out of it somewhat, then we make a few avoidable mistakes and they make us pay,” said Merrill.
The San Diego Seals undoubtedly have the potential to be a better team than their record indicates. They have been creating some good opportunities for themselves but their downfall thus far has been an inability to capitalize on them consistently.
The Seals will travel to Halifax next week for a Saturday, January 18 contest with the Thunderbirds.