ORANGE BEACH, Ala.-- It just wasn’t their day, and now it’s their season. The Azusa Pacific men’s soccer team dropped its second round contest despite a valiant comeback attempt in the NAIA National Championship tournament by a score of 2-1 to Science & Arts (Okla.) on Tuesday.
Jeremy Bishop scored Azusa Pacific’s (13-4-3) lone goal in the 88th minute to give the Cougars a chance late, but in the end the 2-0 deficit would prove to be too much to overcome as the Drovers pulled off their second consecutive upset to reach the NAIA quarterfinals.
“I thought the guys responded well to being down,” said Head Coach Dave Blomquist. “ For the second 45 minutes we got at them and created a lot of good looks. They played really well with the lead. We got that last one, but by then it was too late.”
In the match, just Science & Arts’ sixth contest in the tournament, the Drovers struck first when Phil Pryor found Dusan Rasovic for a goal in the 14th minute on the team’s third shot of the day. The Cougars didn’t get their first chance until the 18th minute when Nathan Nienhuis got his right boot on the ball on the right side near the box. His shot, however, was turned back by the Sooner Athletic Conference’s defensive player of the year, Scott Parkinson, to keep Azusa Pacific down by one.
The teams next opportunity came when Oktay Bulut shot it from the same spot as Nienhuis, but his look was off frame in the 25th. Nienhuis got another decent chance , but Bryan Byars stopped the second of his six shots on the day.
Then in the 36th Parkinson headed in a corner from Niall Crick deep in the box to give Science & Arts a two score advantage.
The Cougars challenged in the 42nd when Leonardo Grigg and Carlos Garcia-Partida earned back to back shots. But Grigg’s attempt was wide, while Garcia-Partida’s was high. Azusa Pacific went into halftime with a 2-0 deficit on the scoreboard after being outshot 13-5.
In the second the Cougars registered the first four shots, but couldn’t convert on any of them. Bishop’s shot from outside the center of the box went wide, while Bulut’s look was blocked by Kalokwera Okot in the 55th. Then Nienhuis had back-to-back attempts sent back, the first in the 59th, and the second in the 63rd as the team continued to attack the Drover’s 2-0 lead.
“I thought in the second half we were dangerous. We attacked quickly in the had the urgency being down two goals,” said Blomquist.
But the Cougars couldn’t capitalize. Then in the 66th minute Science & Arts almost sealed the match when Perry Sansofrd sent a shot towards the back of the net, but keeper Joe Geletko was there for one of his five saves to keep Azusa Pacific alive.
The Cougars, who outshot the Drovers 9-3 in the second half, continued to press. In the 75th minute John Tribbey got a shot off near the top of the box on the right side, but his attempt was off the mark. Three ticks later Michael Sahagian missed his shot from the left side just before Nienhuis failed on another opportunity.
Then in the 88th minute Bishop received a cross from Garcia-Partida and buried a shot near the penalty area to give Azusa Pacific new life.
Just moments after the Drovers put the ball back in play the Cougars stole it and found Nienhuis just inside the 18 yard marker, but the senior’s final shot as a Cougar sailed wide. From there Science & Arts maintained possession and advanced to face Hastings (Neb.) in the quarterfinals on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.
For the men, the loss ends a season that had exceeded expectations for everyone but the players and coaches.
"We had high expectations and lofty goals. And once we got here we really wanted to make a run at it,” said Blomquist. “The guys are disappointed, the coaching staff is disappointed. We felt like we were a quality team that could make a run, but it didn’t go our way today. Overall I’m really proud of the guys and the way they fought all year.”
“It’s really tough for our seniors,” said Blomquist. “They had a great run, and after a little bit of time they’ll look back and realize what a special journey it was. “