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Early Strikes Sink Cougars

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November 1, 2007
Joe Reinsch
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AZUSA, Calif. -- Westmont scored a pair of goals midway through the first half, then turned in a stellar defensive effort over the final 65 minutes to post a 2-1 upset that ruined the NAIA’s top-ranked Azusa Pacific’s unbeaten season Thursday afternoon in the first round of the NAIA Region II Playoffs.

Westmont advances into Saturday’s semifinals, where they will visit either second-seeded Fresno Pacific or third-seeded Concordia. The Cougars, who posted the first unbeaten regular season in program history, are eliminated from the regional tournament but will claim 1 of the at-large berths to the NAIA Men’s Soccer Championship Nov. 14-20 in Olathe, Kan.

Just past the 16-minute mark, Johnny Alcaraz fired a low free kick from 25 yards out that deflected off a Cougar defender, redirecting the shot past Azusa Pacific goalkeeper James Crawford, who had already committed to his right before the deflection sent it in the opposite direction into the goal. Just 8 minutes later, Anthony Niboli doubled the lead to 2-0, finishing an opportunity to the near post from 12 yards out along the right side.

Jonathon Schoff put another on goal for Westmont in the 27th minute, but Crawford came up with the save, and the Warriors would not generate another scoring chance over the final 64 minutes of play.

Sophomore defender Eric Winblad headed in a Danny Sundberg corner kick that cut the Westmont lead to 2-1 with less than 15 minutes to play in the opening half. However, a physical Warrior defense swarmed around GSAC Player of the Year Steven Lenhart every time the ball came near him, and limited the Cougars to 10 shots, their third-lowest single-game shot total of the season. Lenhart took 4 of the shots, but 3 were saved by Westmont goalkeeper Justin Etherton, and the senior forward’s 12th-minute header sailed wide of the goal.

Westmont is 1 of just 2 teams to score 2 goals against Azusa Pacific this season, and the Warriors have now done it twice. Azusa Pacific won the regular-season meeting between the squads by a 3-2 margin in overtime. The contest was Westmont’s fourth game of the season played at the Cougar Soccer Complex, as the Warriors visited Azusa Pacific in GSAC play and played non-conference opponents Corban (Ore.) and Cal State San Marcos at the Cougar Classic Sept. 7-8.

With the loss, Azusa Pacific drops to 16-1-1 on the season, while Westmont improves to 9-7 heading into Saturday’s NAIA Region II semifinals.