SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- There wasn't much to like about Azusa Pacific's chances against Point Loma Nazarene as the final seconds of overtime ticked away in Friday's Golden State Athletic Conference Tournament championship game.
The NAIA's No. 5-ranked Cougars, whose six-year run of conference regular-season titles was snapped by the No. 5 Sea Lions this year, had been beaten in shootouts twice by Point Loma in the 2009 postseason, including that year's national semifinals. In fact, Azusa Pacific had missed on its final six consecutive shots in penalty shootouts against Point Loma Nazarene goalkeeper Tiffany Kracy before Friday's GSAC title game.
However, all that history flew right out the window when Cougar senior Alexa Douglas saved two of the four shots she faced to set up Natalie Sun's match-clincher in the fifth round of the shootout.
“When we lost to them twice in penalty kicks (two years ago), I had shot and missed in one of those (the 2009 GSAC semifinals), so I had that memory in my mind,” Sun said, who also scored the overtime game-winner in 2010 against the Sea Lions in the first meeting between the teams after the back-to-back shootout defeats the previous year. “This time I was so much more confident. I knew the tournament was on the line, and I knew Kracy would probably guess which way I might go, but I had confidence and just went for it.”
Douglas finished with three saves in regulation and did not face a shot on goal in 20 minutes of sudden-death overtime before stopping attempts from the Sea Lions' second and third shooters. All nine shots between both teams in the shootout went to the left side, and Douglas correctly dove that way against all four shots she faced.
“Alexa had a really good week of training, and I thought she played really well in a lot of ways in addition to how she performed in the shootout,” said assistant coach Scott Mocabee, who usually works primarily with the Cougar goalkeepers but took on added responsibility due to the absence of head coach Jason Surrell, who missed the game due to an unavoidable scheduling conflict. “It’s always a difficult decision which of our keepers to play, because they’re both high-level players. A lot of times you go off a hunch or a scouting report, and today we ended up deciding to go with Alexa.”
Meanwhile, freshman midfielder Kendra Trifonovitch, junior midfielder Emily Wood, and junior defender Markie Gleason each buried their attempts in the first three rounds. Junior midfielder Lynsey Browne nearly ended the match a round earlier than Sun's fifth-round strike, but her attempt to the left ricocheted back off the left post to keep the Sea Lions' slim hopes alive.
“We practice penalty kicks all the time, and I have full faith in my team,” Douglas said. “I wasn’t worried about it at all. I watched how each shooter approached the goal, and I didn’t second-guess myself. I’ve never experienced that (all shots one direction) before, but every game’s different and you can’t let that change the way you react.”
The draw marked the fifth time in the past seven meetings between the teams that the game was not decided in regulation, and it was the fourth postseason matchup between Azusa Pacific and Point Loma Nazarene since 2008. All four playoff contests have gone to overtime, with the last three all going to shootout.
“When the team came off the field at the end of overtime, the look on their faces was all about unfinished business,” Mocabee said. “There was no talk about past shootouts with them; it was all about the present.”
With the result, Azusa Pacific earns the GSAC’s automatic bid into the NAIA Women’s Soccer National Championship, with the Cougars (13-2-2) scheduled to host an Opening Round contest on Saturday, Nov. 19, to earn a spot in the 16-team final-site bracket in Decatur, Ala., Nov. 28 through Dec. 3. Point Loma Nazarene is in line to receive an at-large bid, and the Sea Lions (18-1-2) will also host an Opening Round game Nov. 19.
“Revenge played a part in today’s game, because we won the conference six years in a row and they took it from us,” Douglas said. “That was running in the back of our minds, and we wanted to prove we’re the better team. They’re a really good team and a good program, but we’re both very competitive and have a little bit of history with each other.”
Neither team was able to create a decided advantage in Friday’s game, with Azusa Pacific finishing regulation with a 9-8 shots advantage before Point Loma Nazarene generated more overtime chances to finish the game with a one-shot margin (11-10). The Cougars were whistled for twice as many fouls, committing 20 infractions to the Sea Lions’ 10, which contributed to both teams’ inability to create a consistent flow to their respective attacks.
“It’s a healthy rivalry,” Sun said. “They’re a great team and a good program, so when we play them it’s always a battle. When we lost to them in the regular season, it was the hardest loss I’ve ever had to get over. It really stung, and I think even more because we have such a past with them.”
Point Loma had two of the better scoring chances in the opening half, but Katie Pedlowe missed wide right on an opportunity from 14 yards out in the left side of the box in the 27th minute. Ten minutes later, a Katherine Caldwell corner kick provided a 10-yard header for Erica Wessels, but the shot bounced softly in front of Douglas, who gathered it in for the save.
Ten minutes into the second half, senior midfielder Brittany Flanagan put a shot on goal with several Cougars in a dangerous position inside the box, but Kracy was able to bring the ball under control to avoid a rebound score. In the 65th minute, Pedlowe found herself open for an instant as she entered the box along the right side, but with sophomore defender Danielle Ross closing in, Pedlowe hurried a low shot and missed the goal wide to the right by about a yard.
A quick counterattack after consecutive corner kicks for Point Loma with just under 20 minutes left in regulation gave Sun a rare opening for a shot, but her left-footed strike from the top left side of the box to the near upper corner never curled down, missing the goal both high and wide without challenging Kracy. The first overtime period provided what might have been the best scoring chance of the day, but Wessels chipped a shot just over the crossbar from the top of the box to keep the game scoreless.