AZUSA, Calif. -- The NAIA's No. 12-ranked Azusa Pacific turned in a dominating performance in a 4-0 Golden State Athletic Conference victory over The Master’s. The Cougars put 1 goal away early in the first half, then found nearly every way possible to nearly score in the second half before putting 3 goals away late in the second half to seal the win.
"We changed our tactics a little today, to where we made sure we defended first, then attacking," said Wolf. "We stayed very organized and limited their shots. We showed that when we are committed to defend, it will also set us up to enjoy the attack."
With a suffocating defense that kept The Master’s from maintaining significant possession and generating quality chances, Azusa Pacific held a 21-4 shots advantage over the Mustangs, resulting in the lowest shot total allowed by the Cougars this season.
"We have been getting scored on a lot lately, and we took it personally," said freshman defender Eric Winblad. "We stepped it up and focused more on our defending today, and our communication was a lot better. I thought Mark Peters especially stepped it up had a great game in the back for us."
In the seventh minute, junior Brandon Stirm led junior Sven Simon up the right sideline, where Simon delivered a perfect through ball to the top of the box. Sophomore Chris Batdorf took a touch and deposited the first shot of the game into the back of the net to give the Cougars a 1-0 lead.
"I saw Sven go at the defender to open up space," said Batdorf. "Sven played it through perfectly, and I was able to finish the perfect ball. I work well when I am able to get behind a defense, and I tried my best just to complement Sven. He is a great player, and I just wanted to make runs that would make him look better."
Barely 2 minutes into the second half, senior Dustin McBride fired a shot that sent Mustang goalkeeper Kevin Lawson diving to his right, where he was able to make the one-handed stop. Just 5 minutes later, sophomore Jared Karkas streaked through midfield with the ball and executed a give-and-go that gave Karkas a look from 20 yards out, and the shot off his left foot sailed just over the upper corner of the goal.
In the 58th minute, Batdorf collected a through ball on the left side from McBride and beat Lawson with a shot that bounced off the right post and kept The Master’s within a goal. In the 63rd minute, the Cougars earned the first of 3 straight corner kicks, and on the third, Stirm gave the short corner to senior Skelly Kellar, who sent a long cross to Simon. Simon had an opening to the near post, but his shot hit the post and was cleared from danger.
Still, the Cougars did not let up on the attack, earning another corner that resulted in another Lawson save before Stirm found the head of Winblad, who flicked a shot towards the goal in the 75th minute. The ball deflected off a Mustang defender on its way to the goal, hit the crossbar and deflected off another Mustang into goal to give the Cougars a 2-0 lead.
"I wasn’t marked when Stirmy whipped it in, and I just tried to flick it towards the goal," said Winblad. "That was probably the ugliest goal I have ever scored, but it was important for us to know we could keep creating chances. Before, if we had hit the post, we would get frustrated, but today we stayed positive and kept pushing."
Kellar added an insurance goal in the 84th minute, knocking in a cross from sophomore Ryan Cheek up the left side, and just 2 minutes later, Karkas again made a long run through the midfield and was fouled just over 20 yards out to earn a free kick. Stirm lined up the free kick over the 4-man wall, and his hooking shot to the near post was tipped by Lawson but stayed on course into the goal.
"Jared set me up well, making the run and getting the foul in a good spot for the free kick," said Stirm. "Jared and I were talking about what to do with the free kick, and Coach told me to have a go at it. Once I kicked it, the only part I saw was when it trickled into the back of the goal."
The victory was an important one for Azusa Pacific, as it catapulted the Cougars from sixth place to fourth in the GSAC standings with just 3 games left to play, including contests with first-place Concordia and second-place Fresno Pacific remaining on the slate.
"We need to keep coming out with the same mentality we had today," said Stirm. "Each game from here on out, one by one, makes our season. We need to take each one at a time, focus on it and then move on to the next one."
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 4-2-1 in GSAC play, 9-3-2 overall, while The Master’s drops to 2-4-1 in GSAC, 7-7-1.