FULLERTON, Calif. -- Don’t mistake it for relief from the heat.
That collective sigh coming from Fullerton this afternoon was all about an escape and had nothing to do with muggy temperatures and miserable weather conditions, though it seemed for some time that they were having quite an affect on Azusa Pacific.
Senior Kelsey Walker’s goal with less than 4 minutes left in regulation allowed Azusa Pacific to avert a monumental upset and instead sneak away with a 1-0 victory over Hope International in a Golden State Athletic Conference game on the campus of Cal State Fullerton Tuesday afternoon.
A lethargic set of Cougars had difficulty generating much offense the entire day. Whether it was the weather or still the after-effects of a victory over defending NAIA champion Lee 10 days ago, Azusa Pacific wasn’t looking like the NAIA’s No. 2-ranked team.
“That’s a difficult field to play on,” said Azusa Pacific coach Jason Surrell. “It’s small and the surface is rough. It doesn’t lend itself to quality soccer, but we didn’t play with a sense of urgency either. Our work rate was poor for much of the game.”
High humidity and 90-degree temperatures didn’t help the quality of play either.
Hope, which didn’t mount much offense itself, nonetheless continually thwarted the Cougars’ attack through the first half and well into the second half. Perhaps the fear of overtime was all Azusa Pacific needed to kick-start its play.
“We didn’t play well for the first 60 minutes of the game,” said Surrell, “but we picked it up over the final 30 minutes and started creating opportunities that weren’t there earlier in the game.”
With the ball bouncing in the box following a free kick, Walker cleaned up a fracas with a shot that slipped by Royal goalie Candy Bergst in the 85th minute for the first game-winning tally of her 4-year Cougar career.
Azusa Pacific out-shot Hope International, 10-4, but both teams put 2 on goal. The Cougars doubled-up on corner kicks, 6-3.
“Defensively, we did a good job,” said Surrell. “We didn’t really allow them to do much. It just took us too long to get going. We haven’t played the same since we returned from Tennessee. Our work rate hasn’t been the same. We have 3 days ahead of us to turn some things around before the next game.”
And the next foe is a big one. Azusa Pacific hosts reigning NAIA runner-up Point Loma Nazarene, Saturday (Oct. 2) at 3:30 p.m. at the Cougar Soccer Complex. The 2 NAIA powerhouses met 3 times last year with the Cougars taking a 1-0 verdict in the regular-season meeting in San Diego. However, the Sea Lions produced a pair of2 draws in postseason play and in both games advanced on penalty kicks, first in the finals of the GSAC Tournament and then in the semifinals of the NAIA Tournament.