AZUSA, Calif. -- It was business as usual for Azusa Pacific. Another threat. Another challenge. Another swipe at the crown.
For The Master’s College, however, it was anything but common. This game, for the Mustangs, was perhaps the biggest in program history, but in the end they found themselves lying on the roadside with the other contenders of past years, looking up as Azusa Pacific began to carve a path toward yet another Golden State Athletic Conference championship.
Sophomore Natalie Sun scored less than 10 minutes into the game, and the Cougar defense made sure that lone goal would stand up as the NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Azusa Pacific downed No. 4 The Master’s, 1-0, in a key GSAC game Tuesday afternoon at the Cougar Soccer Complex.
The victory propels Azusa Pacific back into first place, alone atop the GSAC, a point ahead of The Master’s, which suffers its first loss in 14 games this season.
“We knew the importance of the game in that they were in first place and we were not,” said Azusa Pacific Head Coach Jason Surrell. “We needed to get the result to get us back into first place.
“I don’t think we treated this game any differently because of the magnitude of it. We try to treat every game as the same and play hard. I’m not sure we did that today. We didn’t have the same intensity that we had on Saturday.”
The Master’s came into the game with its highest national ranking in school history. While the Mustangs have won national Christian college crowns, today’s game was their first stab at establishing the program as an NAIA elite. Azusa Pacific would have none of it, and quickly made sure of it.
The Cougars scored on the first shot of the game when Sun took a throw in, dribbled toward box, cut to her right, and unleashed a 19-yard shot to the far post that eluded Mustang keeper Amanda Diamond.
“That was the first time all season that I hit a shot and felt good about it,” said Sun, who among her 4 goals this season has 2 game-winners and another pair that tied scores late in the contest. “Once I hit it, it felt good to me, so I just turned and started running.”
The rest was up to freshman Allie Stone and her defensive mates -- Rachael Harding, and Danielle Ross, who extended the Mustangs’ frustration in the Canyon City. Stone and Harding continually pushed Mustang players off the ball or their spots, and Ross chased down deep passes, making sure that The Master’s went scoreless in Azusa for an eighth straight time. The Mustangs have not scored a goal on the Cougars’ turf since 1997.
“Defensively, we were good,” added Surrell. “We knew they were a physical team and we had to have the same mentality.”
The Master’s had just one good opportunity to score, but Jasmine Benson’s put-back in the box with 15 minutes left in the first half hit the crossbar and ricocheted out on top where the Cougars cleared the ball.
Azusa Pacific controlled play throughout the game and out-shot The Master’s 16-5, putting 8 on frame, 7 of which were stopped by Diamond, who came in with a GSAC-leading 0.37 goals against average.
Azusa Pacific keeper Michelle Wieland was Diamondesque-like and came away with her third shutout of the season, stopping the high-octane Mustang offense, which was averaging a GSAC-best 3 goals a game.
Azusa Pacific, which has never loss to The Master’s, pushes its winning streak over the Mustangs to 21 straight.
While the Cougars, now 10-0-2 on the season, 5-0-1 in GSAC play, take over the conference top spot, their pursuit of an unprecedented sixth straight GSAC crown won’t be easy. With 4 conference games remaining, the next 3 are on the road, beginning Saturday (Oct. 16) with a noon contest at California Baptist University in Riverside.
“It’s never easy when you play at Cal Baptist,” said Surrell. “We’re going to be tested.”
Which is nothing new for Azusa Pacific.