SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- For the second straight game, junior forward Vinicius Dantas scored a pair of goals including the game-winner, this time leading the NAIA’s No. 13-ranked Azusa Pacific to a 4-0 shutout of the University of La Verne Saturday afternoon at the Westmont Heritage Club Classic at Thorrington Field.
Dantas scored on a penalty kick late in the first half, the result of a red card ejection to La Verne’s Taylor Hart that gave the Cougars an extra-man advantage for the final 49-plus minutes of play. He added Azusa Pacific’s third goal midway through the second half, and he finished with 6 of the Cougars’ 26 total shots, 13 of which were shots on goal.
“The difference between our first and second weekends of games for us was our quality in the attacking half,” Cougar head coach Dave Blomquist said. “With every game, we’re more coordinated in our movements and our passing is sharper. We’re beginning to understand each other, and it’s leading to more quality chances. In the first couple games, most of our chances were half-chances, while this weekend we created more full chances.”
The pivotal foul occurred at the end of a flurry of activity around the La Verne goal with just over 5 minutes left in a scoreless first half. In a span of 30 seconds, Azusa Pacific put 3 shots towards the goal, the last one an on-target strike from senior midfielder Brett Taylor. The ball was kept out of the goal, and the referee determined it was due to a handball committed by a field player, and he sent Hart off and awarded Azusa Pacific the penalty kick in the 41st minute.
Later in the half, senior midfielder Ashkon Banihashemi drove a shot from 25 yards out that could have given the Cougars a quick insurance goal, but La Verne goalkeeper Jonathyn Lomeli was able to tip it just enough to direct it into the crossbar instead of the back of the net.
In the 59th minute, Banihashemi took a similar chance, getting on top of the ball to keep it low from 25 yards out again, and this time he beat Lomeli to push the lead to 2-0.
“Going a man down always alters the course of the game,” Blomquist said. “However, I still thought we did a good job of continuing to move the ball quickly and take advantage of that rather than just assuming the game was ours at that point. I thought our guys had a mature response to going up a man by continuing to play our style.”
Dantas got back into the scoring column in the 67th minute, beating his defender by cutting into the box on the left side and slotting the ball inside the charging Lomeli for his second goal of the game and a 3-0 Cougar lead. Less than 3 minutes later, Taylor cut into the box from the other side, moving across the top of the box for a left-footed finish that gave Azusa Pacific a 4-0 advantage with 20 minutes left in regulation.
Facing the Cougars’ 26-shot barrage, Lomeli finished with 9 saves for La Verne. After surrendering a penalty-kick goal that ruined its shutout bid in the final 10 minutes of Friday’s 6-1 win over Holy Names, the Azusa Pacific defense limited the short-handed La Verne attack to just 1 second-half shot. Sophomore goalkeeper Joe Geletko made 3 saves, all in the first half, to notch his second shutout of the season and his first since the season-opener.
Azusa Pacific is now 4-0 on the year, and the Cougars return to action with a 4 p.m. non-conference matchup at home against NCAA Division III Pomona-Pitzer on Wednesday, Sept. 8. La Verne, which posted a 1-1 double-overtime draw against Westmont Friday, drops to 0-1-1 overall.