AZUSA, Calif. The NAIA’s No. 3-ranked Azusa Pacific scored 2 quick goals and then labored the rest of the way through oppressive heat to post a 6-0 Golden State Athletic Conference-opening win over Fresno Pacific University Wednesday afternoon.
The victory, which is the 3-time defending GSAC champion Cougars’ 19th straight in conference play, and the numbers that went with it appeared similar to those posted in the Cougars’ 4 other 5-goal victories this season, but Azusa Pacific lacked fervor and intensity throughout much of the game, perhaps because of the 100-degree heat and high humidity that pelted the Cougar pitch.
“I’m not going to let the ladies off that easy,” said head coach Jason Surrell when asked if the heat had a hand in the Cougars sluggish effort. “We still have some things that we need to clean up, and we lacked rhythm and pressure in our play this afternoon.”
Early strikes from All-American forward Theresa Broad in the third minute of play and another by All-GSAC midfielder Sarah Yoro in the seventh minute bolted the Cougars to a quick 2-0 lead for what appeared to be another blowout effort. Broad took a finely played lead pass from Lynsee Domene and beat Sunbird keeper Justin Caldera in a one-on-one effort just 178 seconds into the game. Three-and-a-half minutes later, Yoro flicked in a shot past Caldera after a header by Bridgett Brotherton fell just short of the goal line.
“I know Fresno Pacific came into this game confident after a big win over Point Loma Saturday,” said Yoro, “but I think the 2 goals shocked them and put them into a panic mode.”
Azusa Pacific, however, had to settle for the same 2-goal advantage at halftime despite cracking 10 more shots at the Sunbird defense, including 5 on goal over the final 38 minutes of the half.
The 2-goal advantage allowed Surrell to sub freer than he might normally do so in the first-half of a game, giving his starters a respite from the heat. As a result, he put a well-rested set of Cougars back onto the field to start the second half, but there would be no quick scores this time. The Sunbirds kept even for the first 11 minutes, but they began to wilt and the Cougars exploded with 4 goals in a 20-minute stretch.
The offensive outburst began when Broad took advantage of a tiring set of Sunbird defenders and again beat them to the ball on a pass from Marissa Ranberger, going one-on-one again with Caldera and registering her team-leading 11th goal of the season.
Six minutes later Yoro converted a penalty kick off a questionable foul in the box, moving the Cougar cushion to 4-0 at the time.
With the bench emptied by the 65th minute, the Cougar reserves continued the mini-pounding when senior Grace Eleyae, who was making her first appearance of the 2008 season, converted another break away for her first-ever collegiate goal in the 76th minute. Seventy-five seconds later, Eleyae assisted on a Brittany Flanagan goal to complete the scoring.
“I feel a lot more comfortable on the ball this year,” said Eleyae, who was thought to be lost for the season with a knee injury. “Prior to getting injured, I worked hard on my game, and I think it paid off in that situation. I didn’t panic as I came in on the keeper. It felt very natural.”
Azusa Pacific out-shot Fresno Pacific, 28-4, which included a 14-1 count on goal, and has now out-scored its 7 foes this year by a 39-3 margin. In addition, the victory eases some of the pain dealt in a 2-1 loss to Lee University in the Cougars’ last game 11 days ago.
“It was a long 11 days to reflect on what we need to do,” said Yoro, “and we were fired up and excited to get to this game today. We wanted to come out strong and restore some of our confidence.”
Yet the heat slowed what is usually an otherwise relentless set of Cougars.
“Oh my, that heat was something else,” said Eleyae. “Fortunately, there was a little breeze that came up in the second half to make it a little more bearable.”
With the victory, Azusa Pacific improves to 6-1 overall, 1-0 in the GSAC, while Fresno Pacific suffers its first defeat of the season and falls to 5-1-2 overall, 1-1 in the GSAC.