Splash Takes Home First 'I-5 Cup,' by Beating Sockers, 12-8, in Key Game


Armando Valdivia missed the game.

Dale Ervine missed the second half.

Neither was missed at all.

The Splash turned in what might have been a division-clinching performance Saturday night at the San Diego Sports Arena in front of 8,480, beating San Diego, 12-8. It was their fourth victory in a row and sixth in seven games, and also makes them 2-0 on a seven-game trip.

The victory gives the Splash (15-5) a two-game lead over the Sockers (14-8)--but they are three games ahead in the loss column. The Splash also won the season series and claimed the first I-5 Cup, a perpetual trophy shared by the teams.

"I can't express the importance of this game," Splash forward Rod Castro said. "We have to win the games in our division on the road. We proved that we could beat San Diego here."

On a night when the offense was supposed to be severely tested, the Splash got help from some unusual sources.

Valdivia (28 points) missed the game after spraining his knee in practice this week; he is expected to be out two to three weeks. Ervine (49 points) missed the second half because of a sprained big toe and will miss tonight's game in Sacramento, the Western Division's third-place team.

"Armando's absence is a tremendous loss," Splash Coach George Fernandez said. "But this (was) a good test. Let's see how this team responds--can they answer the challenge, do we have depth? I say we do."

In Valdivia's place, defender Doug Neely was moved to midfield and Shane Hickson was moved to the back. And the offense didn't lag.

Neely had two goals and an assist in the first half and finished with a hat trick, his third of the season.

In all, six players with fewer than 10 goals this season scored: Denis Hamlett had two (giving him eight this season), Paul McDonnell scored his ninth, Paul Ratcliffe scored his eighth, Jaime Francisco scored his second, Bobby Reyes scored his first, and Juan Carlos Sanchez scored his first two professional goals.

Raffaele Ruotolo (53 points) had a goal and an assist, extending to 21 his record for consecutive games with an assist.

Rod Castro (37 points) had three assists.

"We spread the load around," Fernandez said. "The young players stepped it up. The first 1 1/2 quarters was as good as we've played this year."

Hamlett and Neely were involved in three of the first four goals as the Splash took a 7-3 halftime lead; the closest San Diego got was four goals.

Jorge Valenzuela was superb in goal with 16 saves; the final two Sockers' goals came on balls that bounced embarrassingly off Ralph Black and Ratcliffe. Still, the defense played well against the Sockers, who have won 10 of the last 12 indoor titles.

Fernandez also said this was the team's best road performance of the year. It comes on the heels of its previous best road show, a 5-4 victory at Arizona.

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