Splash Tops Arizona in Emotional Game


Player/coach Dale Ervine, still wringing with emotion after his father's unexpected death last week, surprised his team Sunday when he walked into the locker room and said he wasn't going to play.

A coaching decision in the best interest of the team, he called it.

"We're a family," Armando Valdivia said. "If one of us gets hurt like that, all of us feel it."

The emotionally-charged Splash got four goals from Bernie Lilavois in a 9-2 victory over Arizona in front of an announced crowd of 7,373 at the Pond. The Splash's victory also clinched a first-round playoff matchup with Sacramento.

The second-place Splash (14-11), 4 1/2 games behind Western Division champion Seattle, plays third-place Sacramento (13-11) Friday at the Pond and Sunday at Arco Arena as the regular season winds down to its final three games.

Arizona (7-16), playing its third game in three nights, was obviously tired, losing its third in a row.

"None of us knew [Ervine] wasn't going to start until the last minute," said Lilavois, who scored his sixth hat trick. "It was emotional when he said he wasn't going to play.

"We put in a little extra at the beginning of the game."

The Splash scored twice in the first 3 minutes 35 seconds, getting goals from Valdivia and then Lilavois. It made Ervine's week a little easier.

"The way I feel right now," Ervine said before the game, having just come from the final viewing of his father, "the decision I'm making is the best decision for the team.

"I'm worn out. It's a difficult time--it was such a shock."

Robert Ervine, of Palm Springs, suffered a massive heart attack Wednesday. Sunday's game was only the second home game he missed in his son's four years with the Splash. His funeral is today.

Ervine played Friday at Arizona and scored the first four goals in a 7-4 victory.

Captain Doug Neely (two assists) said, "To see him perform, under those circumstances, he was an inspiration."

Ervine's intensity and focus on Friday carried over to his teammates Sunday. Coupled with Arizona's fatigue and the Splash's continued solid play, it was too much for the Sandsharks.

After Valdivia and Lilavois staked the Splash to a 2-0 lead, the Splash scored three times in the second, with Lilavois and Matt West scoring 12 seconds apart.

The Splash scored at least two goals in each quarter and won for the ninth time in 13 games.

Lilavois, with a league-high seven game-winning goals, got his hat trick with 10 seconds left in the half when he stole goalkeeper Scott Hileman's pass and kicked 80 feet into an open net. He scored 13 goals in five games against the Sandsharks.

Lilavois' 40th goal of the season came 1:32 into the third quarter for a 6-0 lead, and the first of Paul Agyeman's consecutive goals came with less than a minute remaining in the third for a 7-1 margin.

"Any time a teammate and friend [suffers a loss], you want to win for them," Neely said. "Winning is the thing that we can do. He's our leader. I don't want to bring his misfortune into the reason we're working hard, but I want to work hard for him.

"In the end, it's just a soccer game, isn't it?"

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