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Flames Douse Cougars' Run Again

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Photo by Chris Baker
Natalie Nick gives chase to Lee's Ashley Aragona.

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December 2, 2011
Chris Baker
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DECATUR, Ala.-- In 2010 Azusa Pacific's title run ended with 1-0 a loss to Lee (Tenn.) in the NAIA semifinals. In 2011 it happened again as No. 2 Azusa Pacific (16-3-2) dropped a 2-0 decision to the Lady Flames (22-2) on Friday night.

In the game, which for the most part was pretty even, Lee used a quick strike in the first half to take the lead before the Flames got some cushion with a goal in the 74th minute to advance to the NAIA championship. The Cougars had their opportunities, and even outshot Lee, but couldn’t cash as Azusa Pacific’s season ends in the semifinals for the fourth time in program history.

“We couldn’t finish today, and I knew it would be hard to contain their forwards,” said Head Coach Jason Surell. “I was surprised we didn’t score because of how many chances we had.”

Azusa Pacific held a 14-12 shot advantage in the match, but put only four of those attempts on frame. Junior forward Natalie Sun helped to lead the attack as she created multiple looks on the night. But for whatever reason the Cougars couldn’t bury a shot.

“Natalie was really good today and caused them all sorts of problems,” said Surrell.

And whereas Azusa Pacific couldn’t convert, Lee was efficient in its opportunities. In the first half the Lady Flames got a goal from Ashley Aragona after Ode Fulutudilu creased the Cougar defense before dropping it off to Aragona on the right side of the box. From there the forward slotted the ball far post to grab a 1-0 lead in the 21st minute. In the opening half the teams traded shot for shot (5 apiece) and each had one corner kick.

In the second half the Cougars came out firing, and nearly tied it when Heidi Witschi broke loose along the left side. But Lee’s Leah Wilson made a great play as she slid in front of Witschi to stop the break.

Later in the half Brittany Flanagan’s left footer nearly tied it, but Wilson was there for one of her five saves.

Lee finally got the back breaking blow in the 74th minute when Leah Fortune found Jordan Woody to give the Lady Flames a commanding 2-0 lead.

The two goals Michelle Wieland allowed were as many as she has given up all season.

Despite the 2-goal deficit the Cougars never quit as they registered nine second half shots and earned four corner kicks. But even with their effort they were unable to claw back as Lee advanced to the championship game for the fourth straight year.

The loss ends another successful, but challenging season for Surrell and his team.

“[According to the record] we had a successful season, but for what we set out to do we came up short” said Surrell. “From a soccer standpoint it’s been a challenging season with all of the injuries. It’s hard work, but this job with this group of kids has been great and it’s been fun because of the chemistry on this team.”

Azusa Pacific ends its run in the NAIA with a national record 31 tournament wins and one national championship.