AZUSA, Calif. -- Sophomores Heidi Witschi and Emily Wood provided first-half goals to lead Golden State Athletic Conference regular-season champion Azusa Pacific to a 3-0 win over eighth-place Fresno Pacific in the first round of the GSAC Postseason Tournament Tuesday afternoon at the Cougar Soccer Complex.
The Cougars, ranked No. 3 in the NAIA, ended the regular season with a 3-1 win over the same Fresno Pacific squad, a game in which all the scoring took place after halftime. There was no such suspense early in Tuesday’s postseason opener, with Witschi scoring midway through the first half and Wood pushing the lead to 2-0 just 6 minutes later with a 34th-minute score. Junior midfielder Brittany Flanagan provided the final 3-0 margin with a second-half goal in the 72nd minute.
“It seems like it’s the same thing every game, that we don’t know who it is that’s going to score because it comes from all different directions,” Cougar head coach Jason Surrell said. “I see that as a good thing, because I don’t feel like we have to put the pressure to score on any one player. I think that’s the unique and special thing about this team is that it’s such a balanced attack.”
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 14-1-2 on the season and moves on to the semifinals of the GSAC Postseason Tournament. The Cougars will host Friday’s 2 p.m. semifinal matchup with fourth-seeded Concordia, which posted a 1-0 win over Point Loma Nazarene, last year’s NAIA runner-up, on a 93rd-minute penalty kick.
Azusa Pacific didn’t allow a shot in the first half, although Fresno Pacific was inches from scoring directly off a corner kick at the 18-minute mark with the game still scoreless at that point. Maghan Wright curled a left-footed corner kick towards the Cougar goal, and junior goalkeeper Alexa Douglas’ attempt to punch it away sent the ball caroming into the bottom of the crossbar. It rebounded straight down in front of the goal and was cleared off the line and out of danger by an Azusa Pacific defender.
The Cougars’ deliberate attack kept a significant share of possession in the Fresno Pacific half for much of the first half but had not quite gotten its timing down, generating only 1 shot through the first 20 minutes. However, the persistent Cougars put together a flurry of 5 shots in 5-and-a-half minutes, and the last came off the right foot of Witschi into the upper corner of the net in the 28th minute for what turned out to be the game-winner. Witschi brought the ball forward into space outside the right corner of the box, stopping at 24 yards out for a perfectly-placed upper-V strike tucked just inside the far post.
“I expected it to be a little slower pace because of the heat, and I think we were just trying to figure them out a little bit even though we just played a week ago,” Surrell said. “They are a good solid defensive team, and it just takes time to break them down.”
Wood entered the game following Witschi’s goal, and she capitalized at the back end of a long free kick to make it a 2-0 game. Freshman Allie Stone sent a long free kick from midfield to sophomore Lynsey Browne at the top of the box. Browne led Wood into the box for another well-placed 10-yard touch inside the right post.
“I thought we were trying to be a bit too perfect with the final pass early in the game,” Surrell said. “Hitting a few shots from the outside seemed like it loosened up the defense a little bit. Those were 2 great goals in the first half; Heidi and Emily each had fantastic hits.”
Flanagan, who hit the post 10 minutes into the second half, converted in the 72nd minute for her fifth goal of the year on a breakaway set up by sophomore midfielder Markie Gleason. Gleason lifted a long pass from midfield over the Fresno Pacific defense, where Flanagan ran onto it just inside the 18-yard line on the left for a 1-on-1 opportunity against Sunbirds goalkeeper Catherine Michaelis. Flanagan took a touch to the right to evade Michaelis, then buried a right-footed strike from 13 yards out inside the right post to push the lead to 3-0.
Azusa Pacific finished the game with a 19-4 advantage in shots, including the 9-0 first-half margin, and the Cougars could have had more had they not been caught offside 12 times. Douglas made a pair of saves and registered the shutout, Azusa Pacific’s seventh clean sheet this year.
Fresno Pacific’s final 4 losses of the year all came against teams that were ranked in the NAIA Top 25 at the time of the contest, and the Sunbirds’ season ends with a 5-11-2 overall record.