ANAHEIM — The lineup, the coach confessed, was a crapshoot, an appropriate analogy given the Splash's 3:30 a.m. arrival--by bus--from Las Vegas Sunday morning.
Less than 16 hours later, after sleeping nine of the last 11 days on the East Coast, the Splash stepped onto the floor at The Pond of Anaheim worn out and beat up, and down four starters.
"You take the good with the bad," Splash Coach George Fernandez said, "and turn it into better."
So it was under that adversity that the Splash franchise completed a worst-to-first journey, going from the Continental Indoor Soccer League's most inept team to the Western Division championship Sunday with a 7-6 overtime victory over Sacramento in front of 3,837.
The circumstances gave rise to Bobby Bruch, the team's most unlikely hero.
Bruch, the Marina High girls' soccer coach who has been nothing more than a practice player, wore the Splash uniform for the first time outside of posing for the team picture. But after Dale Ervine's shot was blocked by Sacramento goalie Mike Dowler, Bruch headed the ball into the net 4:20 into overtime.
"It's one of the greatest feelings in sports," said Bruch, who also had an assist. "We work, sweat and fight, and it comes down to the situation it does, and it's great to be in the right spot at the right time.
"This is a huge moment. Phenomenal."
Bruch never broke stride, jumped the dasher boards and landed in the arms of Fernandez with a bear hug.
"He was just overcome," Fernandez said. "The guy's got a great attitude, he's positive and full of life and I think it was a case where he thought, 'I finally got to play and I scored the biggest goal of my career.' "
The Splash (19-7) will be host to the playoffs through the semifinals; if they were to begin today, the Splash would play Sacramento. The playoffs begin Sept. 10.
The Splash plays host to Dallas (22-3) on Thursday in what could be a preview of the CISL championship.
Sacramento (14-12) could have clinched the final Western Division playoff spot with a victory.
The Splash played without defenders Ralph Black and Denis Hamlett and backup goalie Ruben Fernandez--suspended for their part in a brawl in Sacramento on Aug. 14. They were also without defender Paul McDonnell, who has an ankle injuryand leading point-scorer Raffaele Ruotolo, who has a sprained toe.
On top of that, Rod Castro played despite a hyperextended knee suffered in Saturday's loss to Las Vegas, though he moved from forward to defender.
In all, only six of the Splash's top 14 point-scorers were 100%, and the team played without four of the top nine.
"(This victory) makes it a little more special because of what everyone overcame," said Ervine, who had two goals and four assists. "Winning the division was the first goal, but it's not the only goal."
The game might not have gone into overtime had it not been for the performance of goalkeeper Jorge Valenzuela, who finished with 15 saves--including seven that required more than a little effort.
Armando Valdivia scored twice, and Doug Neely and Juan Carlos Sanchez also scored.