AZUSA, Calif. -- Sophomore forward Natalie Sun knew exactly how long it had been since Point Loma Nazarene had ended Azusa Pacific’s 2009 season in the NAIA semifinals. She remembered the exact date she started looking ahead to Oct. 2, 2010, when the Cougars would get their rematch of the scoreless draw and penalty-kick shootout that put the Sea Lions into the NAIA title game and sent Azusa Pacific home.
It was appropriately fitting, then, that Sun would erase the Cougars’ 2-1 deficit Saturday with the equalizer on a free kick just outside the box with just 80 seconds left in regulation. It was that much sweeter when she broke free in the box halfway through the first overtime to send Point Loma back to San Diego still winless through 3 GSAC games this season.
“Ever since December 4 of last year, all I’ve wanted to do was play them again,” said Sun, who fired a game-high 10 shots and put 6 of them on goal. “We all work really well together, on and off the ball, and anyone on our team is capable of scoring. Today it happened to be me.”
It was also Sun who created the Cougars’ first goal of the game with a cross from the right, which freshman forward Laura Feehs headed into the corner of the net at the back post in the 13th minute.
The lead was short-lived, however, as Point Loma Nazarene freshman Krista Gregory scored a pair of goals in a 6-minute stretch midway through the opening half to give the Sea Lions their first lead in a GSAC game this season at 2-1 in the 24th minute. Gregory’s scores also represented a rare offensive explosion from a Point Loma Nazarene team that had scored only 5 goals and been shut out 5 times in its first 7 games of the year.
The Cougars peppered the Point Loma Nazarene goal with 8 second-half shots, with the final one set up with less than 2 minutes to play when Feehs was taken down for a foul just outside the top arc of the penalty box. Sun drilled the 20-yard free kick to the top right corner to tie the game at 2-2 with just 1:20 remaining in regulation.
“We had a lot of good chances, and trying to get that equalizer put as at another level of intensity,” Cougar head coach Jason Surrell said. “We have to find a way to stay at that level, and if we can stay there, I like our chances in any game against any opponent.”
The Cougars controlled the overtime period, as well, and sophomore defender Rachael Harding caught the Point Loma Nazarene back line off guard with a long pass that led Sun straight into the box. Sun had time to dribble closer for a better angle against Sea Lions goalkeeper Tiffany Kracy, then beat Kracy to the near post for the game-winner from 9 yards out just over 4 minutes into overtime.
“First I thought they were going to call me offside,” Sun said of her overtime score, her first game-winner this season and the fourth of her career. “When I realized I was on, I thought the goalkeeper would come out. She stayed in the goal, so I had time to take it into the box and shoot it front post.”
Azusa Pacific’s defense was pressured for 8 first-half shots, including a barrage of 3 in a row from Gregory that finished with Point Loma’s go-ahead score. However, the Cougars held the Sea Lions without a shot after halftime, with Point Loma Nazarene focusing most of its energy on protecting its 2-1 halftime advantage.
“The second we lost on penalty kicks at nationals (last year), I wanted to play them again - we were waiting for this opportunity for a long time,” said sophomore defender Molly Lavin, who at halftime shifted into the midfield and brought a stronger defensive presence throughout the field. “It’s tough not to panic (in that situation), because you know you have to score but you also have to stay composed. I think our team’s experience of playing in big games in different situations helped us keep our composure.”
The Cougars finished with a 24-8 advantage in total shots, with 11 on goal that included a clearance off the line by a Point Loma Nazarene defender plus a first-half Feehs shot off the crossbar.
“We had a little lapse in the first half, but we hadn’t been pushed that hard defensively since the (Sept. 18) Lee game,” Surrell said. “Over the course of the game, I felt good about how we were playing and felt like we deserved to win the game.”
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 7-0-2 overall and 2-0-1 in GSAC play, while Point Loma Nazarene drops to 2-3-3 overall and 0-2-1 in the GSAC. The Cougars visit Concordia on Wednesday, Oct. 6, before returning to the Cougar Soccer Complex for back-to-back home games against Biola (Oct. 9) and The Master’s (Oct. 12).