With the victory Azusa Pacific advances to the regional semis for the third straight year where the Cougars will meet No. 24 Westmont Saturday (Nov. 4) at 1 p.m. in Azusa.
Stirm ignited a sluggish set of Cougars, who struggled with their play in the opening 20 minutes, by converting a Sven Simon feed with a perfectly lofted flick that arched over Point Loma keeper Bryan Louzil and bounced into the back of the net in the 28th minute of the game.
“I just wanted to get a little touch of the ball,” said Stirm of the Cougars’ first shot of the game, “and I hit it perfect enough to go over the reach of their keeper.”
Stirm’s goal kick-started the Cougars, who took over play of the game from that point forward. After surrendering a pair of shots on goal in the opening minutes, Azusa Pacific didn’t allow another Sea Lion attempt on target the rest of the day.
“Our defense was great today,” said Stirm. “They gave us the chance to win, and we converted.”
Azusa Pacific misfired on several opportunities to put the game away, allowing Point Loma to stay within striking distance throughout nearly the entire contest. In fact, as the game intensified, so too did the significance and emotions of each play. Six yellow cards were issued in the second half alone, 4 to Point Loma and another pair to the Cougars.
It wasn’t until Stirm put the game on ice with his sixth goal of the season in the 83rd minute that the atmosphere of the competition seemed to relax. Stirm found himself alone with the ball, 15 yards in front of the Sea Lion goal. He riffled a shot low and to the far post to beat Louzil and register the second multi-goal game of his career.
“Basically, their guy just passed the ball straight to me,” said Stirm, who was somewhat surprised to be uncontested and with possession of the ball. “I just wanted to keep the shot low because earlier I missed a good chance by going too high.”
The victory is Azusa Pacific’s eighth in the past 9 meetings with the Sea Lions and is the Cougars’ first postseason win over Point Loma since PLNU’s stunning 2-1 overtime upset of the then No. 2-ranked Cougars in the 1997 NAIA regional playoffs.
“Today’s performance wasn’t our greatest overall,” said Cougar coach Phil Wolf, “but it’s the end results that matter. In the postseason, when you have moments to put away a game, you have to convert them. We didn’t today.”
Point Loma came into the game on a high after a convincing 3-0 victory over Westmont last Saturday.
“This was a dangerous game for us,” said Wolf. “We beat them 3-1 earlier this year but the game was much closer than that, and Point Loma had to be feeling good after a big win last week. Our guys though brought the necessary intensity when they had to.”
Azusa Pacific improves to 13-3-2 on the season while Point Loma’s campaign ends at 10-6-3. Next up for the Cougars is a rematch with Westmont which earlier this season played Azusa Pacific to a scoreless draw in Santa Barbara. The game also pits against each other the Wolf brothers, Phil of Azusa Pacific and older sibling Dave, head coach at Westmont.
The brothers are 3-3-1 head-to-head since Phil took over the Azusa Pacific reins in 2001. Saturday’s meeting, will be their first-ever encounter in postseason play.