AZUSA, Calif. -- In a game of inches, it always helps to have the tallest player on the field on your side.
The NAIA’s No. 12-ranked Azusa Pacific produced a number of quality chances that had Westmont goalkeeper Matthew McNab scrambling throughout the afternoon, but six-foot-four center back Lucas Young gave the Cougars the edge they needed in the final 10 minutes, rising over McNab and another defender to get his forehead on a John Tribbey corner kick in the 82nd minute for the game-winner in a 1-0 victory over the Warriors Tuesday afternoon.
“It seems that recently if things go wrong for us, it always goes wrong against Westmont,” said Young, whose only other goal in 37 career games was another game-winner last season. “I think we finally put that myth to rest today. Scoring the goal was the easy part, but it was all the hard work by everyone else on the field that gave us that chance.”
The corner kick came after McNab reacted to a 25-yard strike drilled by freshman Jordan Markovich, a shot that started out over the keeper but quickly dipped towards the net before McNab was able to tip it over the bar for one of his seven saves on the day. The resulting corner resulted in the game-winner, as Tribbey lifted a corner kick from the right side across the goal to Young at the far post in the six-yard box. Young was able to send it towards goal, and although McNab was also able to get a hand on it, the partial deflection wasn’t enough to keep the ball from carrying into the net at the right post.
“Lucas is great in the air, and a goal was definitely coming for him,” Cougar head coach Dave Blomquist said. “That’s a strength of his we needed today, because Azusa Pacific and Westmont is always a battle of two quality teams who are organized defensively. Goals don’t come easy in this rivalry, and today’s game adds another chapter to the battles we’ve had with Westmont over the years that have been very memorable.”
Young had also been the target of a corner kick in the final minute of the first half, but that header went wide to leave the game scoreless at halftime despite Azusa Pacific’s 8-2 shots advantage at the break. In the game, the Cougars piled up an 18-5 shots margin, holding the Warriors without a shot attempt over the final 11 minutes of the game. They did so without the services of senior center back Robert James, who was injured in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at The Master’s and was replaced in the starting lineup by junior Hiroshi Metzker.
“I knew I had big shoes to fill, but I wasn’t nervous for the game because I knew I had Lucas to help me,” Metzker said. “In the beginning of the game, we were still trying to get used to the new players in the back, but as we started looking for each other and passing the ball around, that helped us get stronger throughout the game.”
Azusa Pacific allowed four goals in a pair of GSAC contests last week, which snapped a streak of 407 consecutive scoreless minutes, but junior goalkeeper Joe Geletko made two saves, one in each half, to produce the Cougars’ sixth shutout of the year.
“Over the last three games now, our performances have been good,” said Blomquist, who takes his squad back on the road for a key mid-season conference matchup this weekend at Biola, which won a pair of 1-0 games against Azusa Pacific in 2009 before the Cougars rebounded with a 1-0 win at home last year. “The difference between a loss, a tie, and a win is not that much, so it is nice to start the week off with a win over a tough Westmont team. Now we can sharpen up some things heading into another tough challenge with Biola.”
Some of the near-misses that kept Westmont alive included saves in the first 10 minutes of the game, first when senior forward Nathan Nienhuis went to the near post with a solid strike from inside the right side of the box that was tipped over the bar by McNab in the sixth minute. Three minutes later, freshman Carlos Garcia-Partida led Nienhuis into the box in front of the goal, but Nienhuis and McNab arrived at the same time and Nienhuis’ strike was deflected away.
Midway through the first half, Garcia-Partida had a couple of chances from the top of the box when junior midfielder Michael Sahagian centered the ball from the right side. Garcia-Partida’s initial strike towards the right post was blocked by McNab right back to the feet of Garcia-Partida, whose next strike got past McNab but drifted a few feet wide to the right of the goal.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 8-2-1 overall, with a 2-1-1 GSAC record, while Westmont falls to 2-7-1 overall, 1-2-1 GSAC. The Cougars take on Biola Saturday at 1 p.m. in La Mirada.