AZUSA, Calif.-- Both teams were on different paths heading into Saturday night’s NCCAA West Region men’s soccer semifinal. Azusa Pacific had won 12 of 14, and finished atop the Pacific West Conference standings (10-2). Arizona Christian was reeling as losers of seven straight to finish the regular season at 9-9. After 90 minutes of play, both trends continued as the Cougars matched a season-high in scoring with a 6-0 victory over the Firestorm to advance to Thursday’s NCCAA West final.
Five players found the back of the net for Azusa Pacific, and the Cougars registered their largest goal-differential of the year in a lopsided match that saw the Cougars score four times over the final 45 minutes.
“It took the whole game to do it. The first 20 minutes were tough. We were searching for an opening and couldn’t find it and they were defending really well. But over the 90 minutes we were creating enough space and finally broke through,” said head coach Dave Blomquist.
“All season long it’s been a team effort, so for tonight, in a playoff game, it’s great to have a lot of guys come in and contribute. I thought we did a really nice job in all phases of the game, and when so many players have a hand in that it really shows off the amount of quality we have.”
Eighteen Cougars combined to record the team’s eighth home win of the season, while Chip Cox and Jeff Dunn teamed up for Azusa Pacific’s eighth shutout.
Billy Flores scored a match-high two goals, and Keyran Kelly dished out a pair of assists. Oktay Bulut, Keenan Armbrust, Steven Shiokari, and Andrew Delaplane each scored to move the Cougars within a win of clinching a berth in the NCCAA national championships in Kissimmee, Fla.
Azusa Pacific and Arizona Christian were knotted at 0-0 for the majority of the first half despite numerous early chances for the Cougars. Azusa Pacific finally broke through in the 39th minute when Shiokari weaved through the Firestorm defense and dribbled the ball past the keeper and tucked it inside the left post.
Minutes later Bulut made it a 2-0 match with a highlight reel shot along the endline. The senior controlled a missed cross on the left side, turned, and bent in a goal into the far right corner to give Azusa Pacific a 2-0 lead at the break.
In the second half Armbrust opened up the flood gates when he gathered a cross from Garrett Mehrguth, and sent a right-footed strike past a diving Jorge Arauz from the right side of the box. In the 74th Flores scored the first of his two second half goals, controlling a free kick from near the penalty area, and placing it left post. Less than four minutes later he recorded the first multi-goal game of his Cougar career to put Azusa Pacific ahead 5-0.
Delaplane put the finishing touches on the win when he found ACU’s keeper out of place, and put the ball into the far side netting with just 21 seconds left on the clock.
The Cougars registered 21 shots in their offensive barrage, and held a 14-3 edge in shots on goal. Cox tallied three saves, while Tanner Akol tabbed the team’s fourth assist.
Azusa Pacific will face the winner Fresno Pacific on Thursday night at 6 p.m. The Sunbirds beat Bethesda 6-1 in their semifinal match on Saturday night.