AZUSA, Calif.-- Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellie Wiesel once said, “Sometimes, even if you lose, you win.”
Well after suffering a third straight loss to Vanguard in last year’s NAIA opening round game, it was hard for the Cougars to see anything positive; until today.
The NAIA’s 8-seeded Azusa Pacific (13-3-3) overcame an early goal to score four straight times and seal its spot in the round of 16 of the NAIA National tournament in Orange Beach, Alabama with a 4-1 win over Cal State San Marcos, thanks in part to last season’s ending.
“Personally it was a great experience when we lost in the first round last year,” said Oktay Bulut. “I was really [disappointed] after that and I didn’t want it to happen again.”
However, things were again looking bleak as Cal State San Marcos got on the board in the 32nd minute when Scott Rice took a Sullivan Tobin free kick and placed it into the back of the net.
But the sophomore forward did his best to keep history from repeating itself as he countered with the equalizer in the 43rd minute. On the play Carlos Garcia-Partida crossed it from the right side of the box to senior Robert James in the middle. The defender then got a beautiful touch on it before Bulut blasted it left post from near the top of the penalty box
In the first 45 minutes San Marcos outshot Azusa Pacific 7-4, but that would hardly be the case in the second half.
It took just six minutes for Azusa Pacific to grab the lead as Leonardo Grigg cleaned up a deflected save on a Bulut attempt with a strike to the near post from the left side of the box for the team’s first off three goals off a parry.
The four goals were the second most scored for Azusa Pacific this season as the Cougars looked sharp from start to finish.
“I thought for the whole 90 minutes we were good today,” said Head Coach Dave Blomquist. “We conceded a goal, but those things happen. I was really proud of the guys. They didn’t get down or get frustrated, they just kept going. They know that you can come back from being down a goal if you are committed for the 90 minutes.”
In the second half Azusa Pacific outshot San Marcos 11-2, and put nine of its 15 total shots on goal as eight players either recorded a goal or assists in the contest.
“I was really happy with the hunger and desire to get in the box and score goals today,” said Blomquist.
With the win Azusa Pacific now travels to Alabama and will face the winner of the Missouri Valley-Science & Arts match on Tuesday November 29 at 10 a.m. (PST); something Bulut and the team are thrilled about.
“We are all so excited. The whole week the team worked really hard,” said Bulut. “We didn’t want the season to end. I just wanted to go to Alabama.”
The Cougars will be making their first trip to the national tournament site for the first time since winning it all in 2007.