IRVINE, Calif. -- For nearly 89 and a half minutes, the NAIA’s No. 12-ranked Azusa Pacific and No. 6-ranked Concordia struggled to generate more than a handful of quality scoring chances, but when the perfect opportunity arose for the Cougars with just over 30 seconds left in regulation, sophomore Chris Batdorf found himself with just the ball, the Concordia goalkeeper and a momentous Golden State Athletic Conference victory at his feet.
As time ticked off in the final minute, senior Tony Rotunno saw an opening between the Concordia defense and the goal, so he took the chance. He misfired on the shot, and his attempt skipped along the ground directly through to Batdorf, who poked it to the far post for the game-winning goal with 32 seconds to play.
“I saw Tony wind up for the shot, so I tried to get ready for the rebound,” said Batdorf. “It came right to me, and all I had to do was tap it in. It is always nice when the defense plays fantastic for the whole game. As a forward, you want to take advantage of your chances, but it helps take the pressure off when the defense plays well. My job is to try and score, and I was just glad I could do my part today.”
Rotunno did not take a shot in the game, and only pressed forward near the end of regulation after spending most of the game teaming with freshman Eric Winblad and sophomores Mark Peters and Jared Karkas to form a solid back line that would yield only 2 shots on goal. As the Cougars pressed forward, Rotunno found his opening near the top of the box along the right wing before sending what he thought would be a shot but became a perfect through ball for Batdorf.
“I honestly just wanted to get it to the goal and see what could happen from there,” said Rotunno. “The defenders were all inside the box and just gave me space. Luckily, Batdorf was there to clean up my mess.”
Sophomore goalkeeper James Crawford made a save in each half to preserve the shutout, the third straight for the Cougars and the first 3-game shutout streak in GSAC play since the Cougars strung together 6 straight blankings in 2001, Azusa Pacific head coach Phil Wolf’s first season at the helm.
“Games are won and lost inside the boxes at both ends of the field,” said Wolf. “We did not give up a lot of quality chances, and James did not have to make the big save to bail us out. Our back four played really well today.”
With the win, Azusa Pacific has made the race for the GSAC title a lot more interesting, improving to second place in the conference standings at 6-2-1, 11-3-2 overall.
Concordia drops to 7-2 in GSAC, 12-4 overall, but remains in first place. The Eagles can still clinch the conference crown with a victory over No. 25-ranked Fresno Pacific Saturday, although a loss or tie opens the door for the Cougars, who host Fresno Pacific Thursday, or No. 9-ranked Vanguard, which wraps up the conference slate by hosting San Diego Christian (0-8 GSAC) and visiting The Master’s (2-5-1 GSAC).