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Men’s Soccer: Westmont Defeats Vanguard, Advances to Semifinals

The Warriors will face No. 7 Concordia on Saturday.

The sixth-seeded Westmont College men’s soccer team scored three goals in the first half to upset No. 3 seed and 20th-ranked Vanguard (9-6-2) in Costa Mesa on Wednesday. The Warriors (8-6-2) advance to the semifinals of the Golden State Athletic Conference Tournament to face No. 7 Concordia, which defeated Biola 4-1. Saturday’s semifinal game will be at 2 p.m. in Irvine.

“The first half was incredible,” head coach Dave Wolf said. “I don’t know that I’ve ever had a team play with that quality in the playoffs. I thought we made all the right decisions on when to play and when to be safe.”

Sophomore Anthony Niboli started the scoring in just the eighth minute of play. Freshman Zach George threw the ball in from the right sideline and the ball bounced off a defender.

“I thought the only way we could score is if I anticipated,” Niboli said. “I was following the ball, and I saw Jake challenge the defender. Sure enough, the ball bounced right in front of me. All I was thinking was to stay over it and just go straight at it because I knew I was in front of the net.”

Westmont extended the lead in the 17th minute by way of a goal from senior Jonathon Schoff.

“The ball went through the Vanguard defenders,” Schoff said. “Saul got it out wide and crossed it in. I flicked it upper V, and it hit the post and went in. In the past, when we get one goal, we don’t play as hard because we are relieved. But throughout the season we have matured enough where we feel we have to keep going. We got our second one, and we didn’t think that was enough either.”

Junior Hugo Pizano scored the third goal for the Warriors in the 35th minute.

“The play before, Dillon (Barna) was telling me to shoot,” he said. “I don’t know where the ball came from, but I knew it was going in.”

“Hugo was very sharp,” Wolf said. “When he is on his game, he gives us a different dimension.”

Pizano blasted a shot to the left of Vanguard keeper Trevor Herrera from 20 yards out. Herrera dove and was able to slow the momentum of the ball. But the shot got past the keeper and spun into the goal to give the Warriors a 3-0 advantage.

“I’m glad that our work has finally paid off,” Schoff said. “We finally finished some of our chances. This whole season we get all these chances in front of the net and we never put them away. This time, the luck was on our side and we could put them away.”

“All along, we have been saying that we like our team for what they are doing between the boxes,” Wolf said. “The question we have had is whether or not they can score consistently. Starting with the San Diego Christian game, we scored four. Then we get a tough win on the road against Cal Baptist. That was our first road win in the GSAC and showed us we can win on the road. Then we get three today. If we are scoring, we are pretty tough. If we are not scoring goals, we are a good team but a team that is not going to go anywhere. When we are scoring goals, it may take us into the top-third of the league.”

In the second half, the Warriors gave up two penalty kicks — both scored by Tom Culver — but did not allow a goal in the normal course of play. The first penalty kick came in the 60th minute as the result of a handball in the box. The second was the result of a foul in the 68th minute. The Warrior defense held up during the next 22 minutes to secure the win.

“We dealt with (the Vanguard comeback) really well by keeping our shape and clearing everything out,” Niboli said. “I think our team is good about trying to keep our heads and just keep playing.”

“It took everybody,” Schoff said. “It took everybody on the bench and the coaches to keep us in it. Everybody was working together and that is a true team.”

With 13 minutes remaining, a save by Westmont goalkeeper Justin Etherton kept the Warriors in the game. Vanguard’s Scott Faulkner pounded a shot from 20 yards out that looked to be headed to the top right-hand corner. Etherton leaped to his left and made a two-handed grab to end the threat.

“That may have been the pivotal moment of the match,” Wolf said. “Justin is a big game player and relishes those moments when we are protecting a lead. I think his leadership qualities came out at that time.”

In other Golden State Athletic Conference action, top-seeded Azusa Pacific defeated California Baptist 1-0 in Azusa, and No. 4 seed The Master’s won by the same score against Fresno Pacific. Azusa Pacific will host The Master’s in the other semifinal game at the same time that Westmont takes on Concordia.

“We have to put this game behind us and focus on Saturday’s game,” Schoff said. “Hopefully we can come together again like we did today.”

“Ever since we got on the bus we knew we were going to win,” Pizano said. “We came with that positive attitude. We go back to practice tomorrow, keep working hard and keep having that positive attitude.”

Ron Smith is Westmont College‘s sports information director.

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