The NAIA's No. 5-ranked Cougars received timely scoring from unexpected sources tonight as they stopped Biola, 3-2, in double overtime in Azusa.
Saturday, the Cougars defeated Vanguard, 1-0, in the first overtime on a goal by team-leading scorer Erin Arbizu. Tonight, the Cougars' lift came by way of freshman MF Jolie Nitta.
The freshman from Hawaii ended the grueling affair with her first collegiate goal less than 2 minutes into the second overtime off a rebound from a Cougar corner kick.
"It feels good to score my first goal against Biola and with my parents watching in the stands," said an exhausted Nitta, whose parents made a weeklong trip to Southern California from Hawaii. "It just feels good because it's the winning goal that lets us go home. I'm tired."
The win is the Cougars' fourth straight and moves them into a first place tie with Point Loma Nazarene at 3-0. Coming into the match, No. 1-ranked Westmont, Biola, Point Loma and Azusa Pacific were all sitting in a 4-way tie in first. Westmont fell, 3-2, to Concordia, leaving the Cougars tied with Point Loma. The Cougars face Westmont Saturday afternoon in Santa Barbara.
With the 2 goals tonight, Biola becomes the first GSAC team in 11 games to score on the Cougars. Azusa Pacific had not allowed a single goal for the past 11 GSAC matches, a span that stretched over 1,094 minutes, setting a GSAC record.
However, the win does extend the Cougars' unbeaten streak in the GSAC to 21-straight GSAC matches (20-0-1) since midway through the 1999 season.
"I felt like Biola wasn't getting quality opportunities to get the game-winner in the overtime," said Azusa Pacific head coach Jason Surrell. "Saturday night against Vanguard I felt like we were going to get the winner, because we had hammered them all night with shots. Tonight, though, this second half was an even contest. It was just a matter of putting our opportunities away. I felt real good about our first half performance with the exception of our 2 goals we gave up, and in the second half, Biola just wanted it more than we did, and they out-hustled us."
All the game's scoring was done in the first half. Senior All-GSAC Rachel Evans put the Cougars out in front with her first goal of the season in the ninth minute on an assist by Heather Hannemann, who switched the field to wide open Evans, who blasted the ball into the upper left corner.
"I saw weak-side on the backside, and my marker didn't go with me so I was wide open," said Evans, referring to her first goal that gave the Cougars a 1-0 lead. "On the second one, it was the same thing. It was crossed from the right side, and Marilyn (Montgomery) let it go through. I was wide open again and put it away. It's exciting to get this win heading into Westmont, especially since they lost today. We have a big opportunity ahead of us, and a big chance to prove ourselves."
After Biola's Adrianna Dixon tied it in the 14th minute, Evans again answered with her second goal in the 22nd minute on an assist by Stephanie Weber.
However, Biola tied the game in the 41st minute on a header by Krystal Mckay off a corner kick, and the game was tied at 2-2 for next 49 minutes, forcing overtime.
Azusa Pacific received a corner kick in the 102nd minute, which was sent into the box. A diving header by Weber was blocked out to a waiting Nitta, who put the ball into the corner netting at the far post for the game-winner.
"It's a matter of these girls (Evans and Nitta) thinking that they can score," said Surrell. "It's important to get them in the scoring column, because now they think they can do that. We need them to score, because if we have to rely on our forwards all year, we'll be in trouble, because teams will key on them."
With the win, Azusa Pacific moves to 6-1 overall, 3-0 GSAC. Biola drops to 8-3-1, 2-1.