SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- The NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Azusa Pacific got scores late in each half of Saturday’s 2-0 road win over Point Loma Nazarene. Senior Reid Baker tapped in an Eric Winblad cross in the 33rd minute for the game-winner, as the Cougars won their 10th straight to open the season.
The goal was Baker’s fourth of the year, and it was his second game-winner. He was joined in the scoring column by junior midfielder Ashkon Banihashemi, whose score with just 1:04 to play in regulation sealed the result for the Cougars.
Azusa Pacific out-shot Point Loma Nazarene, 19-7, the fourth time this season the Cougars have outshot an opponent by at least 10. Azusa Pacific generated 5 corner kicks to Point Loma’s 1, and the Cougars were whistled offside 4 times.
“We have to work every game,” said Cougar head coach Dave Blomquist, who became the first head coach in program history to win his first 10 games at Azusa Pacific. “We’re not that good, and nobody is that good, that you don’t have to work for every result in this conference. Part of keeping focused is knowing that every game is going to be a test in one way or another.”
With the game still scoreless midway through the opening half, Point Loma Nazarene’s Erick Melendez put a shot past Cougar goalkeeper Tyler Stromberg, but the Cougar defense cleared the chance away to preserve the shutout. Stromberg saved the other 3 Sea Lions shots on goal, posting his fifth cleansheet of the season.
“Today was a very tough game,” Blomquist said. “Point Loma battled from the first minute to the last, which we knew they would do. They created some chances, and fortunately our defenders were timely and made the plays. We created a few chances and took 2 of them, and that was the story of the game.”
The win ensured that Point Loma Nazarene would not ruin another history-chasing start by an Azusa Pacific squad as it had done twice in the past 5 seasons. In 2004, the Cougars were 1 game away from an unbeaten regular season, but Point Loma Nazarene dealt a 4-3 defeat to Azusa Pacific for a 15-1-1 regular-season mark. Three years later, a 1-1 draw against the Sea Lions in San Diego in the second-to-last regular-season contest was the only tie in Azusa Pacific’s unbeaten (16-0-1) regular season. The Cougars went on to win the program’s only NAIA championship that season.
“We can be as good as we want to be, because we have the quality throughout the side,” Blomquist said. “If our guys stay sharp and focused, we can be a really good team at the end of it all. We have the ability for different players to step up in different games because of the quality. I’m fortunate to have the ability to use different players in games without having the level (of play) drop.”
With the victory, Azusa Pacific improves to 10-0 overall and 3-0 in GSAC play heading into a clash with No. 13-ranked Concordia on Tuesday at 3 p.m. in Azusa. Point Loma Nazarene drops to 1-7 overall, 0-3 GSAC, although the Sea Lions were unfortunate to draw the 3 highest-ranked teams in the conference for its first 3 league contests.
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