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Better Late Than Never

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November 5, 2008
Joe Reinsch
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AZUSA, Calif. -- Freshman forward Vini Dantas scored with just over 2 minutes remaining to help Azusa Pacific snap out of an offensive funk and lift the Cougars to a 1-0 win over California Baptist Wednesday afternoon in the first round of the GSAC Men’s Soccer Postseason Tournament.

For just the second time since the 2006 season, Azusa Pacific was out-shot at home, with the Lancers putting 13 shots toward goal compared to just 7 for the Cougars prior to Dantas’ game-winner.

“I was hoping for a little more energy than that, and it was maybe the poorest performance of the season,” said Cougar head coach Phil Wolf, who was out of the country for Azusa Pacific’s last 2 regular-season contests due to the process required to adopt a new child from Russia. “We’re lucky and thankful to win that game, but hopefully we learn that lesson in a win, because if we play that way again, it’s going to be in a loss, unfortunately.”

The 6-foot-3 Brazilian took a ball away from a California Baptist midfielder deep in Lancer territory, got around a defender and buried an 18-yard strike from the right side into the netting at the far post for the goal.

“One of their midfielders got a bad touch on it, so I took the ball from him and went straight one-on-one with one of their defenders,” said Dantas, who has scored or assisted in 4 straight games for Azusa Pacific. “Their other defenders had everything else covered, so I did a little step-over to get to the right and have a shot. I’ve been struggling a little in striking it well, but today, on the only strike I had, I got it right.”

Senior goalkeeper James Crawford made 5 saves, stopping dangerous chances in each half to preserve his seventh shutout of the season. In the first half, Cody DeGrood slipped by a defender deep in the penalty box, but Crawford blocked the point-blank chance away, and the follow-up one-timer on the rebound from Gabriel Gonzalez deflected off another Cougar defender wide of the goal for a corner kick.

“Our defending was a little shaky on that play,” Crawford said. “The guy slipped through a little bit and I tried to make myself as big as I could.”

With just under 7 minutes remaining, Gonzalez tried to tuck a 25-yard shot underneath the crossbar, but Crawford tipped the chance over the bar for another Lancer corner kick.

“I realized the guy was going to shoot so I started backing up,” Crawford said. “The ball just hung up there a bit, and I really had to get back to get it.”

California Baptist took 5 corner kicks to Azusa Pacific’s 4, but the Lancers generated only 1 shot off the set pieces. After Gonzalez’s near-miss, the Cougars pushed forward and launched 4 shots at the Lancers in the final 6 minutes of the contest.

“We felt a little tight,” Crawford said. “Maybe that’s because we have a younger team, having first playoff game jitters, but hopefully we can kick those away and look a lot better on Saturday. At this point, we don’t really have an excuse to come out soft like that.”

Dantas’ goal was his second of the season, and both were game-winners for the Cougars, who are 11-1-1 since getting off to a 1-2-2 start to the season. He was the only Cougar who took more than 1 shot in the victory.

“They played much better (than us) today overall,” Dantas said. “Their defense was really solid and strong. They made a little mistake, I got the chance and put it away. We couldn’t do anything all game, but it came down to who wanted to win at the end.”

With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 12-3-3 overall, while California Baptist’s season comes to an end in the single-elimination GSAC tournament with a 7-8-3 season record. The Cougars host The Master’s in the GSAC tournament semifinals on Saturday, Nov. 8, at 2 p.m. As per GSAC policy, admission prices to conference tournament contests are $8 for adults, $6 for faculty, staff and seniors, $5 for students and children under 10 are admitted free.