COLUMBIA, Ky. -- Two of the NAIA’s 3 top-ranked teams traded second-half penalty kicks, but a dominant opening half helped lift top-ranked Azusa Pacific to a 3-2 victory over No. 3-ranked Lee (Tenn.) Friday evening at the KELME Classic hosted by defending NAIA champion Lindsey Wilson (Ky.).
Junior Sarah Yoro’s 72nd-minute penalty kick snapped a 2-2 tie, and the Cougars held the ball on Lee’s side of the midfield stripe for the final 4 minutes of the game to seal the victory.
“I didn’t feel any pressure at all,” said Yoro. “We’ve actually been practicing PKs, and personally, I like to take the shot quickly whenever I take penalty kicks. The sooner I do it, the faster I can get it over with and take the pressure off.”
Yoro opened up the scoring in the 10th minute, finding the lower right corner of the net to give Azusa Pacific an early 1-0 lead.
“We all know that Theresa’s a really hard worker,” said Yoro. “We know whenever she’s going towards the goal, we just need to follow it up, because you never know what’s going to happen. Something told me to get over there and follow it, and lo and behold, the ball bounced out and I just popped it in.”
Less than 6 minutes later, Lynsey Domene’s corner kick sailed past a trio of Cougars at the near post, but Randie Massro was ready at the back post, giving Azusa Pacific an early 2-0 lead with a low header to the far post.
“Knowing that this was the No. 3 team was pretty big for me,” said Massro, who scored on a nearly identical corner kick in last season’s 1-0 NAIA quarterfinal victory over Westmont. “These are top teams here, and we know we’re going to see these teams later on at nationals, so it definitely means a lot for us to win tonight.”
The lead nearly held up until halftime, but Lee’s Janaina Novaes scored on a breakaway, lifting a shot over charging Cougar goalkeeper Jill Colfer-Martinson from 15 yards out, cutting the Azusa Pacific lead to 2-1 with just over 2 minutes to play before halftime.
Novaes, a 2-time NAIA All-American first team forward, was awarded a penalty kick as she dribbled away from the goal in the outer corner of the box, falling to the ground on contact from Cougar defender Lauren Lane. On the penalty kick, Colfer-Martinson took a step right before diving back to the left, where Novaes’ offering found the net to even the game at 2-2 in the 58th minute.
“We’re a pretty experienced team and we didn’t panic,” said Cougar head coach Jason Surrell. “I thought we outplayed them in the second half. They got the second goal, but we just kept playing. I thought we were coming at them quite a bit, and we were limiting their chances.”
Azusa Pacific had an answer, as a Yoro shot from close range hit the crossbar, and less than a minute later, Theresa Broad pressed the attack towards the Lee goal yet again. Broad headed a long pass from midfield towards the goal, then beat her defender and the goalkeeper to the ball for the apparent go-ahead goal, but she was ruled offside on the play, keeping the score tied at 2-2.
“I thought that our midfield played better than it has all year,” said Surrell, “and Theresa looked like herself tonight. She looked hungry and aggressive, and that’s the Theresa we’re used to seeing.”
A handball in the box by a Lee defender on 1 of the Cougars’ 9 corner kicks set up the actual game-winner on the penalty kick from Yoro, who wasted no time firing low to the left for the score.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 4-0-1 on the season, while Lee suffers its first defeat and drops to 4-1 overall. The Cougars take on Lindsey Wilson, a 1-0 winner over No. 7-ranked Martin Methodist (Tenn.) Friday night, in a rematch of the 2006 NAIA title game in a 7 p.m. Central time contest Saturday night.