AZUSA, Calif. -- Senior midfielder Dustin McBride waited 82 games for a chance like this, and his line drive to the far post in the 61st minute beat 2-time All-GSAC goalkeeper Logan Frank to his left, providing the difference for the NAIA’s No. 10-ranked Azusa Pacific in a 1-0 win over No. 24-ranked Westmont in the semifinals of the NAIA Region II playoffs Saturday afternoon in Azusa.
“When the team was huddled on the field right before the second half started, I told the guys, ‘When I get the goal, I’m going to do Legolas and start shooting arrows,’ ” said McBride. “I had never had a chance to score a goal in such a big situation. We had been taking it to them all game, and when the ball went to us, we capitalized.”
McBride, who entered the contest with 5 career goals, snapped a 170-minute deadlock between the sides that started with a double-overtime scoreless draw Sept. 30 in Santa Barbara, giving the senior his first goal in 13 career postseason contests.
“I thought we played well in the first half, but the Westmont goalkeeper had a great half,” said Cougar head coach Phil Wolf. “At halftime, all I told the boys was to keep pressing, just to keep going and keep after them.”
Despite the lack of goals, the game was not short on quality scoring opportunities. Six different Azusa Pacific players put shots on goal, with Frank making 8 saves to foil the Cougar attack. Less than 8 minutes into the second half, Westmont nearly took the 1-goal advantage, when a shot from Warriors freshman Justin Miller skipped past Cougar goalkeeper James Crawford, but the ball hit the post and rebounded back in front of the goal and was cleared from danger.
Azusa Pacific out-shot Westmont, 20-9, including a 10-2 advantage in the opening half, but Frank made several brilliant saves throughout the game to keep the Warriors within striking distance.
The Cougars narrowly missed on 3 opportunities midway through the opening half, with All-GSAC junior Sven Simon taking a cross from McBride in the 24th minute and sending it just wide of the near post. Less than a minute later, Simon touched the ball just outside the box to McBride, whose dipping shot took an early deflection and made a difficult angle for Frank, who leaped up for a spectacular one-handed save. In the 33rd minute, All-GSAC senior Skelly Kellar sent a long throw to Simon, whose cross found the head of senior Donny Dequine near the goal. Dequine’s header was once again stopped by Frank, who made 5 saves in the first half alone.
In the 87th minute, Westmont senior Blake Thompson fired a quick shot low to the right side of the goal, but a diving Crawford made the last of his 5 saves to preserve the shutout, the fifth in the past 6 games for the Cougars.
“I knew the 18-yard boxes would be tight, especially as the teams started getting tired, so we knew we had to buckle down and get ready for anything,” said Crawford. “They played the ball right in, and I just threw my body at it. Luckily, the ball hit me and stayed out of the goal.”
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 14-3-2, while Westmont drops to 11-6-3. The Cougars advance to the NAIA Region II Championship, where it will host No. 8-ranked Vanguard Nov. 11 at 1 p.m., a rematch of the first of back-to-back 1-0 losses for Azusa Pacific earlier this season. Since suffering those defeats, the Cougars are unbeaten in their last 8 games. Vanguard’s current 9-game unbeaten streak includes 3 ties, the most recent a 2-2 draw in the NAIA Region II semifinals against Concordia. The Lions advanced to the championship on the winning end of a 4-1 penalty kick shootout this afternoon in Irvine.