Monday, September 17, 2012

Repeat performances as Whitworth posts pair of shutouts against Willamette

Wren and Sterk celebrate their game-winning goals | Photos: Gerald Barnhart
The Whitworth women have put the Northwest Conference on notice that the pair of Amy Sterk and Tiara Pajimola are a difficult duo to contend with. And while scoring for the 16th-ranked men’s side may be hard to come by, a bend-but-don’t-break defense is proving to be difficult to crack – something the ladies have also employed to start the conference campaign.

It was a day of déjà vu Sunday as the scoring summaries were nearly identical from the day before, only with the Willamette University Bearcats the victims. Sterk and Pajimola once again scored, in the same order but in the first half this time, and the lone scorer for the men was left back Will Wren, who had to settle for just one, a late game-winner, after tallying the first two of his career 24 hours earlier as the Pirates posted 2-0 and 1-0 victories, respectively.

Willamette University 0 :: 2 Whitworth University – Women

Yesterday it was the Amy Sterk (Pullman, WA) show. And today it looked like that was going to be the case yet again as she got her head on a few early chances. Though she scored in her third straight game, all opening tallies, it was Tiara Pajimola (Spokane, WA) who was dazzling the crowd on hand as she beat defender after defender with deep runs into the attacking third, but ironically scoring on an unusual strike.

“I am gonna sound like a broken record,” said Whitworth head coach Jael Hagerott. “Again, Amy Sterk: balls in the air, we know we have a very good shot with her in the box. And with Paj, again, she was meaning for a cross but it ended up going in. We’ll take it.

Pajimola gets a chuckle out of her goal
“Paj, she has the ability to go at players, and we like her – as much as she holds up in the game – to just keep driving at them because she puts them on their heels.”

A back-and-forth first half gave way to a second stanza in which Whitworth slowly took more of the possession as the visiting Bearcats were playing their second road match in as many days, coming off a 1-0 loss in Walla Walla to Whitman Saturday. In the 64th minute a corner from Carly Schilperoort into the box was headed barely over the line by Sterk, though play continued briefly before the whistle was blown as the goalkeeper knocked it out quickly.

Three minutes later Whitworth made thoughts of a rally in the hot afternoon sun a daunting task when Pajimola delighted with her fantastic play. Gathering the ball after an initial bad touch 30 yards out even with the right corner of the area, the Shadle Park grad turned her defender to the outside and drove into the corner where, with plenty of space, she launched a ball toward goal that drifted toward the center of the crossbar. Goalkeeper Nicole Price rose to tip it over but did not completely get a hand to it and the ball continued on into the far side netting, leaving the quick striker in joy and disbelief as she fell to the pitch in the corner.

“There wasn’t anyone there, so I kinda just put it in there,” Pajimola said after a brief pause to consider her answer to whether or not it was a cross or a shot.

Willamette’s best chance in an attempt to get back into the match came in the 79th minute when a long counter by Ashland Bernard down the left flank finished with a cross into the area to Ariel Wilson, who chested a turn past her marker. She drove a few yards to the right before her shot was blocked by Jessica Webber (Spokane, WA), who stuck her leg out at the last moment after recovering on the play. The block sent the ball caroming just wide of the left post, giving the Bearcats another great chance on the ensuing corner. The ball dropped into the scrum in the six, where Jill Phillips popped the ball upward off the underside of the crossbar only to see it come back down in front of the line for more tense moments before the play was eventually blown dead for a foul.

Hegg controlled the back line throughout the match
“In the beginning of the season we gave up more goals,” Hagerott said of the less successful non-conference performances. “I think that was a factor of youth but we’ve put some players back there: Jami Hegg, Carly Schilperoort, and Kelsey Griswold – they’ve been tough, and then with (goalkeepers) Andrea Stump and Ashley Rothrock (Spokane, WA) in the back, solid.”

The first half saw several good opportunities for each side with the closest chances coming near the half-hour mark.

The Bearcats had the first great opportunity when Jami Hegg (Spokane, WA) overran the ball at midfield on the left touchline, allowing the attack to continue onward to the box to Bernard, who had her chance in the left corner of the area shut down by the right back, who recovered on the play. The immediate counter featured Pajimola taking the ball from midfield and beating a defender on a long run before firing from just inside the box just a few inches over the bar. Just over a minute later, a cross into the area nearly resulted in an own goal as defender Shannon Scott attempted to clear on the volley, inadvertently sending the ball, fortunately, within Price’s reach.

The team returns to the road for a double dip in Oregon next week, facing George Fox in Newburg and Pacific in Forest Grove Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

“Both George Fox, Pacific; two very tough teams for us,” said Hagerott. “The games are usually physical. We tied Pacific two times last year, so we’re hoping this year that we can turn it around, but we always expect a battle.”  

George Fox was 2-10-4 in the conference a year ago and is 0-3 thus far this year. Whitworth won 1-0 and 2-1 last year. Pacific, which played the Pirates to 1-1 and 0-0 ties, is 1-1-1 this season after a 7-5-4 campaign in conference play in 2011.

Willamette University 0 :: 1 Whitworth University – Men

Coming off of a lengthy scoreless draw the day before at Whitman, the Bearcats came in and gave the hosts a battle. In the end though, the Pirates picked up their 20th consecutive victory against Willamette dating back to September 29 of 2002, a 3-2 overtime loss on the road. Fourteen of the 20 wins are shutouts.

Although the visitors lost starting defender Luke Falcone 15 minutes into the contest to a knee injury, the Bearcats kept the Pirates off the board until the final seven minutes of the match when Will Wren proved to be the hero again.

He picked up the ball wide out on the left side and took a couple touches about eight yards from the corner of the area before cutting to the inside past a defender, driving across the top of the box before firing a blast that the keeper Brayden Calder was unable to rise and stop as the powerful shot continued into the back of the net off of his outstretched hand with just under seven minutes remaining.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. His first three goals in three years at Whitworth so I am glad he is picked this time to start scoring, so it is great,” Pirates head coach Sean Bushey said of Wren being the hero again. “If you can get guys from out of the back to score goals then it allows for a lot more options in your attack, creativity, so it was big time.”

The game up to that point was slowly building for Whitworth, which finished with a 13-5 advantage in shots and allowed just one shot on goal at the other end.

“Willamette had the game plan of sitting back and defending, played a lot of minutes yesterday and so they wanted to slow the game down, and they did a good job of it,” said Bushey. “But, I thought we did a good job of staying patient; the soccer got better as the game wore on.

“And then we defended when we had to when they had long throw-ins and long free kicks – we ended up defending well and thankfully got the win. I didn’t think we gave away anything too dangerous; just had to fight. They are a team that will put the ball in the box so you have to defend and stay disciplined, and they did a good job of that. You can’t prevent a long throw-in from getting into the box; you can’t prevent a long free kick from getting in there, and so you have to just defend it and thwart it - that we did, and then grind it from there.”

The visitors really only had a few quality chances in the match, the first coming surprising a minute after losing Falcone when a ball rolling left to right in the box came to Erik Kaufman, who slid in at the top of the six to put the ball toward goal only to have it cleared at the right post. The second chance was a 23 yard effort from Trevor Jensen eight minutes into the second half that soared just over the crossbar, and the third came in the 72nd minute when a chance in from the left side was redirected toward the goal by Sebastian Mortimer (Moscow, ID) only to roll just wide of the far right post.

The rest of the contest was nearly all Whitworth, though the opportunities were not as plentiful as the day before. Kekoa Mountcasle put a 15 yard effort just wide 18 minutes in, and it looked like it was going to be the closest chance of the half until a free kick in the 44th minute led to some excitement. Similar to the free kick of Saturday’s opener, a ball out near the left touchline, 30 yards from the corner, was played outside the left corner of the six where it was headed onto the near post by Sam Engle, forcing a diving stop by the keeper.

Chavez key figure in the midfield
Eleven minutes into the second half, the Pirates thought they had the go-ahead goal. A ball that came out on the left flank to Spencer Wolfe was perfectly slotted in between two defenders to Anders Nostdahl (Sandpoint, ID) in the box, where he looked to shoot. The ball, though, came out to Mike Chavez (Kennewick, WA), who was the key figure in the Pirates possession and attack all day with Karl Muelheims (Spokane, WA) out from the head injury suffered the day before. Chavez drove in from the edge of the area and unleashed a shot that rang off the bottom of the left post.

“Mikey is a good skill player, he is creative and can make some things happen,” said Bushey. “Sam Engle, coming on as a freshman too, is doing quite well, so that helped us. It is good team contributions throughout so I was pleased with it.”

The men’s team face the same trip as the ladies, venturing to Oregon for meetings with George Fox and Pacific.

“We head to Oregon, so it’s the first away trip of conference play – George Fox and Pacific. Pacific is always a very difficult place to play and they were conference champs a couple years ago, so we have to be prepared and ready to get after them.”

The Pirates put four on George Fox in the two meetings a year ago, allowing just one goal to the Bruins, who were winless in conference play at 0-13-1 last year and are without a win through two games this season. Also 0-2 so far this season, Pacific was 5-8-1 last year. Whitworth blanked the Boxers 2-0 and 4-0 in the two matches. 

Northwest Conference Recap - Men

In addition to Whitworth's 2-0 victory against Linfield, Pacific Lutheran posted a big 5-0 win against George Fox, Willamette and Whitman played to a scoreless draw and Puget Sound edged Pacific, 2-1.

In addition to Whitworth's 1-0 victory over WIllamette Sunday, Pacific Lutheran earned another shutout, 2-0 against Pacific, and Puget Sound defeated George Fox. Linfield rebounded from the loss in Spokane to defeat Whitman, 2-1.

Northwest Conference Recap - Women

The ladies started the season off before the men with midweek contests. In addition to Whitworth's 1-0 win at Whitman in which Amy Sterk (Pullman, WA) scored the lone goal, the other three games saw a total of 15 goals. On Wednesday Pacific defeated George Fox, 3-1, and Willamette won a duel with Lewis & Clark, 4-3. On Thursday, Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran played to a 2-2 draw.

Shutouts were the theme of the day Saturday. Along with Whitworth's 2-0 win against LC, Linfield blanked Pacific, 2-0, via a Taylor Collinsworth (Bend, OR) clean sheet while Puget Sound and Whitman picked up 1-0 wins against George Fox and Willamette, respectively.

On Sunday, every game finished with two goals along with Whitworth's 2-0 win against Willamette. Pacific Lutherand and Pacific finished 1-1 while Linfield and LC earned 2-0 wins against George Fox and Whitman, respectively, with Collinsworth getting a second shutout without even needing to make a save for Linfield. Spokane's Madisen Stewart delivered the corner headed in by Emily Fellows for the second goal in the 90th minute.