AZUSA, Calif. -- Sarah Yoro’s knack for scoring postseason goals came in handy for the NAIA’s No. 5-ranked Azusa Pacific. Yoro, a native of Mililani, Hawaii, put away her team’s first overtime scoring chance after the Cougars launched 20 shots towards goal in 90 minutes of scoreless play in regulation. It was her 10th postseason goal in 3 seasons at Azusa Pacific.
Barely a minute into the overtime period, Yoro found herself with space about 15 yards outside the penalty box. The senior attacking midfielder touched it forward, setting it up for a 30-yard left-footed blast to the near post underneath the crossbar for the “golden goal.”
“I think when it comes down to crunch time, I like the pressure,” Yoro said. “Because there’s more on the line, I think there’s something in me, there’s an ‘x factor’ that comes in for playoffs. When it comes to crunch time, I definitely enjoy it. If I get the job done, that’s even better.”
Fittingly, it was Yoro who finally converted for an Azusa Pacific squad that out-shot Point Loma Nazarene by a 21-7 margin for the game, as it was Yoro herself who had 2 of the Cougars’ closest near-misses during regulation. In the 16th minute, Yoro drilled a 23-yard strike off the crossbar, and she went just inches over the crossbar from 20 yards out in the 65th minute off a free kick just outside the box. Yoro’s near-miss was virtually identical to the game-winner she struck in Azusa Pacific’s 3-0 win over Point Loma Nazarene just 10 days earlier.
The Cougars, held to just 3 shots in the first 20 minutes of the second half, gradually took control of possession and Yoro’s 65th-minute chance off the free kick opened up numerous quality chances over the final 25 minutes of regulation. Azusa Pacific averaged a shot every 150 seconds over the final 25 minutes of regulation.
“We started to play more direct and knock the ball around them,” said senior midfielder Saxony Ifland, a central figure in a Cougar midfield that seemingly became stronger as the game wore on. “We wanted to pressure them better and win every ball. We’re stronger this year than we’ve ever been and we play for each other. We’re kind of a second-half team, and we’ll need to come out stronger in the first half (in the future).”
Sophomore midfielder Lynsey Domene’s dipping line drive from 20 yards out started drawing away from Sea Lions goalkeeper Wendy Espejel towards the near post, but Espejel stuck with it, making 1 of her 6 saves, all after halftime.
Just three minutes later, Yoro’s corner kick from the left just cleared the head of senior forward Bridget Brotherton at the far post, but senior midfielder Karen Lawrence sneaked in behind Brotherton and took a 5-yard poke at the ball that went wide of the right post by less than a yard. With just 5 minutes remaining in regulation, junior defender Katie Rorabaugh led junior forward Theresa Broad on a breakaway up the middle, but the ball was knocked away by Breanna Nelson, Point Loma Nazarene’s last defender between Broad and a 1-on-1 opportunity with the goalkeeper.
“In the first half, we were sluggish and not really in much of a rhythm,” Cougar head coach Jason Surrell said. “Our second half was very good. There were moments where they (Point Loma) weren’t even able to get it out of their half. They did a great job of keeping it compact, and they made it tough for us today. They had good numbers behind the ball and had a pretty good game plan.”
Junior goalkeeper Sammi Sheppard rewarded an Azusa Pacific defense that controlled much of the second-half possession with a 5-save effort that gave the Cougars their 11th shutout of the season. It was Sheppard’s seventh cleansheet of the season, and she highlighted the effort with a first-half save of the Sea Lions’ best scoring chance of the afternoon. Sheppard perfectly timed her leap to make a right-handed tip into the crossbar of Katie Pedlowe’s 25-yard rocket in the 32nd minute.
“They had 1 or 2 chances, but we didn’t feel they were particularly dangerous for most of the game,” Surrell said. “We were just out of rhythm, so we made a couple of switches that seemed to make a difference for us.”
The victory was the first for Azusa Pacific in which it scored less than 2 goals. The Cougars had scored at least 3 goals in 5 straight games and 12 of its first 15 games before scoring just once in Saturday’s 3-1 defeat to Vanguard, a defeat that snapped a program-record 27-game GSAC winning streak, along with program-record 41-game home unbeaten and 25-game home winning streaks.
“It was great to have (the streak), but I had to think about resting key players who needed to be rested,” Surrell said. “It stinks that it’s not there anymore, but at the same time, every season’s different. Last season is not this season, so we’ve got to focus on what we’re doing now. There are some combinations we still need to work on, and we need to get a better understanding of what we’re doing. The second half today was good, so I’m encouraged that we’re already headed in the right direction.”
Azusa Pacific, now 15-2 on the season, advances to the GSAC Postseason Tournament semifinals, where it will host The Master’s, the fourth-seed in the tournament and also an overtime winner, 2-1, in its first-round matchup with Vanguard. The teams will meet at 2 p.m. at the Cougar Soccer Complex on Friday, Nov. 7. As per GSAC policy, the conference tournament admission prices are $8 for adults, $6 for faculty, staff and seniors, $5 for students and children under 10 are admitted free.