AZUSA, Calif. -- After unsuccessfully firing on 38 shots in consecutive 1-0 defeats, the NAIA’s No. 7-ranked Azusa Pacific made its chances count Saturday afternoon, earning a 3-1 Golden State Athletic Conference win over Point Loma Nazarene.
"We've dropped a lot of points recently, so I hope we turned a corner today and took the first of 4 or 5 steps that we still need to take this season," said Cougar head coach Phil Wolf. "I asked the guys to grind one out today. A lot of other teams don't think we can grind out a victory, and we were very intentional about that."
Junior Steven Lenhart ended the drought for the Cougars, connecting on Azusa Pacific’s first shot attempt of the contest just over 5 minutes into the game. Lenhart touched a pass from sophomore Jared Karkas past his defender and beat Point Loma Nazarene goalkeeper Bryan Louzil to the far post for a 1-0 lead.
"There was just a sense of relief from all the guys that we could score," said Wolf. "We've had enough chances in the past 3 or 4 games to win 12 games. We just haven't been able to finish, and in this game that's critical. All season long Stevie has done everything we've asked of him and has done it right. He just wasn't doing the last thing lately -- scoring."
Lenhart added his second goal of the game in the 27th minute, when junior Brandon Stirm sent a free kick from just outside the corner of the 18-yard box in front of the goal area. Lenhart directed it inside the near post to give Azusa Pacific a 2-0 lead, which it took into halftime.
"It felt good to score today, but then it always feels good to score," said Lenhart, a 2005 transfer from Point Loma Nazarene. "We did not want to lose to these guys today. It is a good rivalry, and the guys know that I used to play there, so they wanted to make sure we did well."
The Cougars, who had outshot their previous 2 opponents by a 38-16 margin, this time survived an onslaught of shots by the Sea Lions, who sent 11 of their 14 shots towards the Cougar goal in the second half. Sophomore goalkeeper James Crawford was equal to the task, making all 5 of his saves in the second half, including a diving stop in the 55th minute of a Jason Smith header that deflected off a Cougar defender on its way to the goal.
Just minutes later, the Sea Lions capitalized on its attacking play, as Chasen Greig knocked in an Adam Sonney corner kick amid a scramble in front of the Cougar goal, cutting the lead to 2-1 in the 57th minute. Point Loma Nazarene used that momentum to orchestrate a persistent attack, sending 7 more shots towards goal, including an 87th-minute opportunity that beat Crawford but was cleared from danger by Karkas.
"They got kind of a soft goal on us and it seemed to really boost their confidence," said Lenhart. "We just had to pack it in after that and hold them off."
After Azusa Pacific was whistled offside 7 times in the second half, senior Dustin McBride found an onside Lenhart with a through ball in the 89th minute. Lenhart forced a commitment to his attack by the goalkeeper before crossing it on the ground across the box to junior Sven Simon, who knocked home the insurance goal to seal the Coguars’ 3-1 victory.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 3-2-1 in Golden State Athletic Conference play, 8-3-1 overall, while Point Loma Nazarene drops to 3-2-1 in GSAC, 9-4-1 overall.