MONTECITO, Calif. -An equalizer by Memo Mendoza in the 54th minute proved not to be enough as Westmont Men's Soccer fell by a score of 2-1 to Corban of Oregon (9-1-1) in the NAIA National Championship Opening Round Tournament – Santa Barbara Bracket. The Warriors finish the season with a record of 7-2-1.
"I thought the result was fair," said Dave Wolf who saw his 30th year as head coach of the Westmont program come to an ended today on Thorrington Field. "On the balance of the full 90 minutes, Corban was very deserving. I thought they were the best team we played this year. They were not only individually talented and gifted, but also well organized and well coached. Stylistically, I thought they were very good."
The Warriors came out aggressively in the first half, but managed just one shot on goal. In the 14th minute, Samuel Tuscano lined up on a free kick from the right side and sent the ball arcing toward the goal. A good save by Corban goalkeeper Justin Keegan prevented Westmont from taking an early lead.
As the half continued, Corban began to control possession.
"I thought in the first half we were chasing ghosts," assessed Wolf. "They dominated us in every aspect of the game. We were second best and fortunate to only be down one goal at halftime."
Corban's first goal came in the 44th minute of play. Nate Sherwood sent in a corner kick that bounced out to Tristan Erispe. From seven yards out, Erispe drove the ball toward the right post where Carlos Llamosa was waiting. Llamosa, less than a yard away from the face of the goal, redirected the ball into the net for the score.
Down 1-0 at halftime, Westmont came out firing in the second half with a couple of near misses by Wyatt Babineau and Michael Palmer before Mendoza recorded the first goal of his collegiate career.
Jona Romero took a free kick from near the left touchline and sent the ball through the air it to the top of the six-yard box. Mendoza angled toward the ball and produced a well-timed diving header to convert the scoring opportunity.
"We scrapped our way back into the game in the second half and, obviously, got it to 1-1 through a great service and an outstanding header – Jona to Memo," described Wolf. "I was really pleased with the group we started in the second half, many of whom were reserves. They helped us get a little bit of a foothold in the game. It was a more evenly played second half."
Unfortunately for Westmont, Corban responded just six and one-half minutes later with a goal by Yuki Onishi - who had entered the game just two minutes earlier. Jose Peralta passed the ball to Onishi from the top of the 18-yard box. Onishi, took one touch to settle the ball then fired from the left side near the top of the six-yard box, placing the ball in the right-hand crease.
Sam Tuscano had another opportunity in the 71st minute and ripped a line drive from the left side that barely went wide right.
With eight minutes remaining, Westmont was given a one-man advantage when Corban's Giancarlo Canas was issued a red card and removed from the game.
Westmont earned two corner kick opportunities in the final minute and one-half of regulation. Tuscano sent in the first corner from the left-hand side and found the head of Owen Bates, who flicked it toward the goal. Keegan was able to punch the ball over the crossbar to prevent Westmont from tying the game at two.
On the subsequent corner, Tuscano found Palmer, but the ball went left of the goal. Westmont did not have another opportunity to score.
With the win, Corban advances to Saturday's Opening Round Final where it will take on Central Methodist (Mo.), the overall number one seed. Central Methodist advanced to the final with a 2-0 win over UC Merced in the second semifinal game.
Reflecting on Corban after the game, Wolf offered, "I would say that they were a half-step up the ladder (compared to other teams Westmont had played this season). (Assistant Coach) Johnny Whallon made an interesting observation after the game. This was a season when we didn't get to play UC Santa Barbara and UCLA and Loyola Marymount. We didn't get a chance to see that elite level of play and be able to experience it and learn from it."
Despite the loss, Wolf is grateful for his team's performance this season, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I would not have envisioned this team having the success that it had this year based on the number of outstanding players that we graduated (last year) and based on the fact that we had a large number of new players. I think they really had something special, but it is hard to understand or articulate exactly what that is in the midst of this particular experience.
"My guess is that none of us will know exactly how exhausted we are until we get a little bit of a break from this grind that we have been on. It was a nine-month season for us. We were still thinking we were coming in for training camp in August. Then things started getting pushed. We started training in the end of September and we are still going at almost the end of May. It has been some kind of ride."
Wolf ends his 30th season with a record of 348-164-55
Article courtesy of Westmont Athletics