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Lightning (and Rath) strike in waning minutes of rugby match

Last-minute win moves Old Pueblo team to next round of playoffs

The Old Pueblo Lightning Rugby Club battled on their way back on Saturday afternoon in the second half against the Ventura County Outlaws to progress in the Southern California Rugby Football Union playoffs.

OP Lightning seemed to have an advantage in the first half. They kept possession for most of the first half, and a Ventura County player showing obvious heat exhaustion symptoms during an early scrum pointed out that a Tucson team playing at their home field at the West Side's Estevan Park had other advantages as well. Still, the team was stymied when they got close to the end line and had some points to make up going into halftime.

“We were trying to attack on the outside, and it wasn’t working. So we had to change our attack to be more in the middle,” said coach Swing DePoint. “We had a lot fast people on the outside, but their defense was awesome...We needed to refocus and do more phases on the inside and create a lot more opportunity.”

Passing the ball out wide created too many opportunities for turnovers, so the team started to make more forward runs. The change up didn’t result in more tries, but it did create a couple of penalties that led to set plays. Early in the second half, Alex Rath earned the team three points on a penalty. The team’s second opportunity for points came when Andrea Hite powered her way up to the goal line, where the mass of Ventura defenders swarmed her resulting in a penalty for a collapsed maul.

That led to both a yellow card for a Ventura player and another successful penalty for Alex Rath.

The Lightning was still down by two points as the clock dwindled down. Again, Ventura got called for a penalty and it came down to University of Arizona alum Rath to be the hometown hero. The ball floated through the uprights for three points and a 23-22 win.

OP Lightning’s next match is against the winner of the match between Pasadena Rugby and Las Vegas Slots scheduled for Saturday afternoon.

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The Lightning ended the regular season 6-1, their only loss coming on Feb. 4 to the Fullerton Wolfpack. It’s an even more impressive record when you consider that it wasn’t too long ago that wins were few and far between.

“This is our second year in a row where we won the division and before that they never had a winning season,” said coach DePoint. “The ladies have done very well to prepare themselves mentally and physically.”

“We had our ups and downs,” he said. “We had to go on the road to California three times and it’s a long drive. We had one loss out there ... but they rallied together and they worked hard for the win today.”

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There probably shouldn’t have been much nervousness on the part of Lightning players going into the match. After all, they had walloped Ventura, the current league champion, 51-5 back in January.

Still, Ventura was a better prepared team on Saturday and played a smart defense that kept the Lightning from running up the score. It fell to fly half Alex Rath to make up the second hand deficit, which would put pressure on any player. She found a way to deal with it.

“It was very nerve wracking,” she said. “Before the game the coach said ‘pick someone on the team and play for them. Hold yourselves accountable for each other. I said to myself, how could I pick just one teammate?”

“As the kicker, it’s scary, but it’s motivating that I have my whole team to back me up and hold me accountable. Whether I make it or not, we are all playing for each other,” she added. “I wanted that responsibility. I’m not scared of that.”

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Joshua Pearson/TucsonSentinel.com

The Lightning dominated possession and territory for long spans of the game, but handling errors in the opposition 22 prevented that dominance from turning into points.