He predicted a playoff atmosphere, but not even Splash Coach George Fernandez could have written the script that was played out Thursday in front of its largest home crowd of the season.
Dale Ervine scored the franchise's first short-handed goal, with 20 seconds left, and Doug Neely scored the game-winner with 0:00.1 left to give the Splash a 10-9 victory over the Arizona Sandsharks in a Continental Indoor Soccer League game.
The Pond of Anaheim played host to 5,223 on "Melrose Place" actor Andrew Shue's second and final appearance, but the crowd was clearly more enthralled by the heroics of the everyday players.
The Splash took a half-game lead over the Sockers (9-3), which it plays Sunday in San Diego. Arizona (6-7) and San Diego are the two Western Division teams the Splash plays three times on its 28-game schedule.
"I knew there was less than 10 seconds left," said Neely, who called his three-goal performance in the fourth quarter the greatest 15 minutes of his professional life. "The whole team kept fighting back, and you have to give Ralph (Black) all the credit in the world."
Black was the sixth attacker while the Splash was a man down and made the assist to Ervine that tied the score.
"This is why we play the game," Ervine said. "We don't play for the lucrative contracts, but this is exactly why we play this game for a living."
Ervine, too, scored three times, taking a pass from Black and drilling the ball through a defender's legs and past goalkeeper Wayne Seaber from beyond the red line while a man down.
Neely had brought the Splash to within 9-8 with a goal with 3:55 left off an assist from Raffaele Ruotolo, his second of the game. Ruotolo added to his CISL-record with assists in 16 consecutive games.
The 14 second-half goals were in stark contrast to the first half, in which the Splash held a 3-2 lead after consecutive goals by Black, Armando Valdivia and Ervine.
"It's the greatest regular season game I've been a part of," said Fernandez, who began his professional career in 1984. "I thought we played a poor second half. Outside of the great win, I'm not happy with the way we played."
Arizona scored four consecutive goals in the third quarter, including three within 1:28, to turn a 3-2 halftime deficit to a 6-3 lead. The Splash got goals from Paul Ratcliffe, Rod Castro and Ervine and it was 7-6 entering the final 15 minutes.
Shue left the game with about three minutes to play and it was later revealed he had a concussion.