AZUSA, Calif.-- After a big win over Vanguard on Wednesday, and a huge match with Concordia on the horizon, the NAIA’s No. 11 ranked Azusa Pacific found itself in a must-win scenario against San Diego Christian on Saturday if the Cougars were to have a shot at the GSAC championship.
Fortunately the team escaped with a 3-0 win, despite struggling for much of the match.
Azusa Pacific (11-2-1; 5-1-1) looked out of it in the opening minutes and didn’t get a real good look until Garrett Mehrguth found Carlos Garcia-Partida for a header that traveled only a few feet outside of the right post in the 28th minute.
10 minutes later Oktay Bulut sent a cross into the box, setting up freshman Jordan Markovich just inside the box, but he couldn’t connect as the match stayed 0-0 in the 38th minute.
Moments later a Steven Shiokari cross resulted in a Leonardo Grigg header, but the freshman’s attempt was stopped by San Diego Christian’s Cameron Riley for one of the keeper’s six saves.
In the first half the two squads traded shot for shot, with the Cougars putting two on frame compared to the Hawks’ one.
The turning point of the match came in the 48th minute when Riley saved a Garcia-Partida shot from the middle of the box, but couldn’t control it; forcing the aggressive keeper to give chase to the loose ball. The goalie, however, couldn’t recover it as Nathan Nienhuis settled it on the right side, 15 yards out and then placed it far post for the first score of the contest.
After the Cougar’s took the lead San Diego Christian gave the home team fits over the next 10 minutes as Azusa Pacific struggled to get the ball past midfield. But the Cougars settled, and held off the Hawk’s effort, thanks in part to a few inches of luck.
In the 69th minute San Diego’s Juan Valdivia got off a shot near the top of the box that was out of reach of a diving Joe Geletko. Fortunately for the keeper the ball hit the inside of the post, and bounced parallel to the goal, rolling safely out of bounds to keep Azusa Pacific ahead 1-0.
“We got the goal and I though San Diego responded very well,” said Head Coach Dave Blomquist. “They kept going and were looking for the equalizer.”
Michael Sahagian looked to give the Cougars a lead in the 80th minute, when he worked for a good shot near the penalty area, but despite placing it towards the upper-right v San Diego’s Riley made a full extension diving stop to keep his team in it late in the match.
After seven more minutes of play Bishop worked down the left side and dribbled towards the goal, tempting the keeper to make a play. When the goalie did bite, bishop dumped it off to Sahagian who finished the open netter from the center of the box.
Just moments later Bishop and the opposing keeper tangled again, literally. Riley’s tackle of Bishop on the left side of the box, 10 yards outside the goal, resulted in a penalty kick that the sophomore finished for a three-goal advantage. The lead would be safe, as the Cougars went on to win 3-0 thanks to Geletko’s eighth shutout of the season.
Azusa Pacific improved to 15-0 all-time against San Diego Christian, and more importantly stayed within a half-game of the current GSAC leader Concordia; setting up the team’s most important match to date on the season when the Eagles and Cougars square off on Tuesday.
“It’s a big game, and great matchup,” said Blomquist. “It’ll be a very decisive game for the conference finish.”
The match starts at 3 p.m. at the Cougar Soccer Complex on Tuesday. The winner will grab an ever-important lead in the GSAC standings, with just one match left on the schedule.
Highlights From The Match