AZUSA, Calif. -- Freshman forward Laura Feehs returned to the lineup, and not a moment too soon for the NAIA’s No. 3-ranked Azusa Pacific, which needed Feehs’ team-high 10th goal of the year to break a scoreless tie nearly 70 minutes into Friday’s 2-0 win over No. 19-ranked Concordia in the semifinals of the Golden State Athletic Conference Postseason Tournament.
“Laura just has a knack for the goal,” Cougar head coach Jason Surrellsaid. “She always seems to be in the right spot, and she impacts us quite a bit. She’s one more dangerous player for the other team to think about.”
Sophomore Heidi Witschi added an insurance goal in the 80th minute to clinch the win, as the Azusa Pacific defense limited Concordia to only 1 shot after halftime.
The Cougars, now 15-1-2 on the year, will host its conference or regional championship game for the sixth time in the past 7 years. Azusa Pacific’s opponent is the team responsible for its only defeat of the year, No. 9-ranked California Baptist, which handed the Cougars a 2-1 overtime loss Oct. 16.
“If you’re playing at home in the postseason, it means you’ve done something in the regular season,” Surrell said. “One of our goals every year is to win the conference, so we can get these types of games at home.”
Feehs sat out the Cougars’ 3-0 first-round win over Fresno Pacific to nurse a minor injury, but she entered Friday’s contest at the 32-minute mark and stayed on the field to start the second half. She took 2 shots before her 68th-minute goal, which she touched into an empty net after sophomore forward Natalie Sun’s brilliant cross from the right touch line pulled Garvin out of position to protect the back post.
Four Azusa Pacific sophomores combined to produce the second goal, with midfielder Molly Lavin’s chip out of the midfield touched forward by Sun to lead forward Jacqueline Conforto into the box behind the Concordia defense. Conforto crossed the ball from the left corner of the box to Witschi, whose first touch from 8 yards found the back of the net for her fifth goal of the year.
Despite the Cougars’ commanding 15-4 shooting edge, it was Concordia that generated the higher-quality scoring opportunities early on. In the fourth minute, Alyssa McDonald led Sasha Hudson into the left side of the box. After a couple of touches towards the left post, Hudson couldn’t get sophomore goalkeeper Michelle Wieland to commit to either post, and Wieland made the save and controlled the near-post strike Hudson measured up.
In the 16th minute, McDonald fired another open chance directly at Wieland from 12 yards in the center of the box, but Wieland again controlled the save. The Cougars put 6 of their 7 first-half shots on goal, but the majority were routine saves for Concordia goalkeeper Bekah Garvin. The exception was senior midfielder Kelsey Walker’s shot from 10 yards out at the back post on a 25th-minute corner kick, which was on target but cleared away by Eagle defender Loren Kortizija at the post.
“I thought Concordia was the more aggressive and physical team in the first half,” Surrell said. “We hadn’t played a team at their level for our last several games, so I don’t know if that was a part of our slower start. Give credit to Concordia – they were much better this round than when we played them in the regular season.”
In the 62nd minute, Hudson took a cross from Kortizija in a dangerous spot in the middle of the box. The Azusa Pacific defense held, and Hudson’s hopeful strike from 6 yards out was blocked by a defender and cleared from danger. The Cougars held Concordia without another shot over the final 28 minutes of action.
“Our big improvement from the first to the second half was in our midfield,” Surrell said. “We controlled the ball a lot better, we found the open player, and Delina Papa did a good job of getting into the attack. Those are the kinds of things I wanted to see us improve after halftime, and I thought we were the more physical team in the second half.”
Wieland finished with 3 saves, all in the first half, to give Azusa Pacific its fifth shutout in the past 7 games. It was the fifth cleansheet of the year for the sophomore goalkeeper, and she tied her season-high with 3 saves to improve her goals against average on the season to 0.47. Sun took 4 shots, putting 2 on goal, and her 2 assists tied her for the GSAC’s season assists lead with 10 on the year.
Hudson took 2 of Concordia’s 4 shots, and Garvin finished with 6 saves for Concordia, which finishes the year with an 11-6-3 overall record.