AZUSA, Calif. -- Coincidence, luck, karma – call it whatever you want, but Azusa Pacific senior midfielder Brandon Stirm has turned some opportune bounces into a week to remember after scoring and assisting goals to help lead the NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Cougars to a 3-0 win over California Baptist Saturday afternoon.
With just over 9 minutes remaining in the opening half, Stirm’s cross from the right side set up Steven Lenhart’s goal, giving the Cougars a 1-0 lead. Then, to cap a 30-minute stretch that turned a scoreless tie into a 3-goal lead for Azusa Pacific, Stirm fired a low shot from the right side that found its way into the goal. California Baptist goalkeeper Adam Kramer made the initial 2-handed sliding stop at the near post, but the ball richoted off the leg of a Lancer defender into the open goal, giving the Cougars a 3-0 lead 20 minutes into the second half.
Lenhart’s goal was his 10th in 11 games so far this season, and the senior forward played the ball forward for the assist on Stirm’s 65th-minute goal. Sophomore midfielder Dana Yoshizu scored his first collegiate goal in the 59th minute, finishing off a quick attack started by a Sven Simon pass to the wide left of the penalty box. Ryan Cheek fired in a cross in front of the goal to Yoshizu at the far post, who touched it to the right into the goal for a 2-0 Azusa Pacific lead.
Just 3 days ago, Stirm was the center of attention in a 3-2 overtime win over Westmont that featured a pregame moment of silence to honor Cougar Sean O’Connor, a former 4-year men’s soccer player who previously wore Stirm’s number 11 for the Cougars. Several Cougars had quality scoring chances in the extra period, but it was Stirm, wearing a black armband in tribute to O’Connor, who found himself with the ball and the open net in front of him, and the senior midfielder put away the golden goal for the dramatic win. Fittingly, it was O’Connor himself who gave Azusa Pacific its first-ever home victory over Westmont, a 1-0 win in the fall of 1982.
Stirm’s goal wrapped up the scoring just 6 minutes later, and the Cougar defense held on for its ninth shutout in 11 games so far this season. Junior goalkeeper James Crawford made 2 saves, both in the first half, to earn his sixth shutout of the season.
With the win, Azusa Pacific continues its best start in program history, running its season-opening winning streak to 11 games, and the Cougars improve to 4-0 in GSAC play. California Baptist drops to 2-2 in GSAC play, 6-4-1 overall. The Cougars continue conference play when they visit The Master’s on Tuesday, Oct. 9, at 4 p.m.