AZUSA, Calif.-- With a trip to the GSAC semifinals on the line junior keeper Joe Geletko rose to the challenge, delivering two key saves in penalty kicks (3-1) to push the NAIA’s No. 10 ranked Azusa Pacific past Hope International after a 110 minute battle that saw the Cougars and Royals play to a 1-1 draw.
“It was a tough match; they gutted it out to the very end,” said Head Coach Dave Blomquist. “[Joe] came up big when we needed him. We got the result, which is great and now we’re moving on to the semifinals.”
In the match, which was choppy and downright ugly at times, both teams combined for 29 shots, 40 fouls, nine yellow cards, and three reds. Of the Cougars’ 20 shots only six were on goal, while just two of Hope International’s nine chances were on target; one of which was a goal that caught Geletko off-guard as it dropped into the bar and eventually off the keeper’s head before crossing the line for a Royal score in the 6th minute.
But outside of that lone hiccup, which the keeper said made him feel ‘awful’, Geletko was in the zone.
In the first round of PK’s he followed a John Tribbey right post finish by punching away a ball headed toward the left side to give Azusa Pacific (12-2-3) a 1-0 advantage. In the second round Carlos Garcia-Partida gave the Cougars a 2-0 edge after Matthew Howard’s attempt slammed into the crossbar.
The Royals would, however, get on the board when Edgar Braun sent it into the middle of the goal while Geletko guessed right to bring them within two after Jeremy Bishop buried a shot past the frozen Jhovany Hernandez to make it 3-1 heading into the 4th.
But after Trenton Titus narrowly missed the right post the Cougars needed a stop to secure a rematch with Concordia in the semifinals.
And Geletko came through as he guessed right and punched away Bryan Escarano’s attempt; igniting a celebratory jailbreak from his teammates and eventual dance near the goal.
“I guessed right on the first and the other two were just hunches. I knew some of the right footed shooters were going to go to my right,” said Geletko. “I felt good because I had full confidence that my team would finish. I wanted to give the seniors another game.”
But the keeper wasn’t all-smiles afterwards as he lamented on the 6th minute goal that leveled the contest at 1’s.
“It wasn’t one of my better games. I gave up a soft goal and feel awful about it,” said Geletko after recording just one save in 110 minutes.
His team saw it differently.
“Joe won it for us today,” said Titus. “It was huge, if we didn’t win we may not have gone to nationals…it gives us another chance to play.”
The praise continued.
“He’s growing in confidence and experience, and he’s working towards be an outstanding goalkeeper. He came up big when we needed him,” said Blomquist. “PKs are a tough way to decide a match. Both teams worked really hard for 110 minutes and PKs can go either way. I knew our guys would take good penalties and Joe saved a couple but you never know how it goes.”
The Cougars got on the board first when a foul on Bishop in the box resulted in a penalty kick just four minutes after the opening whistle. Davis Delamarter, who was later ejected after a brief scuffle in the 85th minute, blasted the shot towards the right post, leaving Hernandez helpless and giving Azusa Pacific a 1-0 lead.
But moments later the Royals got an equalizer when Escarano’s shot from 33 yards out appeared to be headed over the bar. Geletko, believing it to be out of play, made no attempt on it, but the ball rattled off the bar and eventually into the goal.
“He got a clean hit on it and I didn’t see it all that great,” said the keeper. “I thought it was floating over but then I looked back and it hit me in the face. Even if I think it’s going over I still should have had it.”
The teams then battled, sometimes literally, through the rest of the half as whistles and cards plagued the flow of the game.
In the second half Azusa Pacific opened with a great display of ball movement that resulted in a cross from Nathan Nuienhuis, to Davis, but the senior’s sliding attempt traveled right of the goal.
After a red by Davis in the 85th the Royals returned the favor when Shahra Aghayousef was given his second yellow (resulting in a red and ejection) on a sliding tackle of Garcia-Partida; forcing both teams to play with 10 men.
After each squad struggled to get good chances the match went to overtime where Hope International nearly ended it when Zach Hoffer received a cross on the doorstep. However, he couldn’t finish as he somehow launched the ball over the goal, setting up an opportunity for the Cougars in the 96th minute.
After receiving a pass from Michael Sahagian, Garcia-Partida dribbled it by two defenders into the right side of the box and pushed the ball towards the goal in traffic, but Hernandez made the stop.
In the second overtime both teams exchanged chances, but neither could finish, forcing PKs as Azusa Pacific advanced 3-1.
With the shootout win the Cougars will host Concordia on Saturday at 2 p.m. The two teams played to a 1-1 tie last week at the Cougar Soccer Complex.