Sunday, September 7, 2014

Another comeback performance leads Whitworth over Corban

The Pirates prevailed in their third comeback performance in the last four games | Photos: Gerald Barnhart
In a preseason contest against the reigning Cascade Collegiate Conference (NAIA) champion Corban University, the Whitworth men were trailing after the first half but rallied to pull even in the second and found a fantastic winner in overtime for the 2-1 victory to remain perfect on the year at 4-0-0.

Rylan Berriman's upper corner strike from about 20 yards on a run across the top of the area was a thing of beauty in the seventh minute of extra time, capping a nice series of play from the Pirates, who were continually peppering Corban with shots narrowly off the mark for the latter part of the game.

Photo Gallery [+]
The shot completed a nice play in which the Pirates came directly at Corban up the middle with speed before the ball was dished off to Berriman at the left corner of the area. He then proceeded to carry the ball across the top of the area looking for a final pass before eventually finding enough space to turn and rip it into the upper right corner of the goal by everyone's surprise, sending the team into a frenzy with the student supporters located on the hill behind the goal.

The winner capped a dominant second half and more for the Bucs, who outshot the visitors 13-7 in the second frame, particularly after Kellen Luey was sent off for taking down Mike Ramos as the two positioned for a long ball in the 84th minute for the Warriors, who also fell 2-1 at Whitman Thursday. The red card was one of several moments in which the visitors were disciplined in a match in which many more cards could have - arguably should have - been issued as the contest became much more physically intense as it progressed.

The Pirates fell behind in the 12th minute of the contest when a throw-in on the right side found its way through the box, via Bobby Hutchin, to Josh Noonkester, who put it away from about 14 yards out on the left side.

The goal was the lone conversion for the Warriors, who had several opportunities as they were in the offensive end quite frequently with Whitworth's defense struggling with their possession and touches on the ball early on. Tony Watters had to make a nice save on a shot from Quamie Dinnall in the 18th minute.

"We didn't come ready to play, especially, and our building from the back we were poor in the initial part of the game," said Whitworth coach Morgan Cathey. "They could have had two or three because of our mistakes.

"From there we got better in the second part of the first half. I thought we did well building, and then combining in through midfield and getting to the final ball, but our final ball let us down a lot. It let them hold onto the lead and give them, for me, way more hope than we wanted."

Moments later Whitworth countered with a ball up to the center line where Nathaniel Cheney, in attempt to challenge for the ball, missed, allowing Berriman to break to goal before the play was disrupted in the box. Three minutes later a ball from Sam Engle out of midfield found Robby Ubben at the top the box, where he beat the goalkeeper to the ball. However, by the time he was able to make his wide turn to the right side and get a look at goal, the goalkeeper had recovered and his cross was denied.

In the 25th minute a great combination of play led to a shot from Samuel Jarrett at the top of the box, but it was controversially blocked in the area by a Corban defender, eliciting shouts for a handball and penalty. The half ran out with Ubben and Jonah Snyder getting further chances only to come up empty.

The chances continued with abundance in the second half for Whitworth, and though Corban occasionally threatened, it appeared the odds of scoring were overwhelmingly in the home team's favor.

Ten minutes in Berriman made a good run up the left and when his shot was blocked, it rebounded out to Ramos, who took it a bit right before letting loose a shot that goalkeeper Steven Mason stopped. A few minutes later Engle beat a defender on his left and slipped it in to Ramos, but his quick effort slipped on goal was dropped on by Mason as well. Ramos continued to display his skills in the 60th. He dazzled everyone with his ball control in the right corner before crossing in to Ubben inside the six. The ball eventually made its way out to Berriman, whose great opportunity was dashed by Corban's Tim Kagey on the line.

"I thought we wore them down; in the second half our attack was much better and we created more clear chances. We did better at switching the point of the attack and finding that open player, but still I think we didn't execute the final ball well enough," said Cathey. "We could have, if we just connected that final pass, had a lot more chances for us. We didn't hold the line enough well, and we wasted our good soccer. We let them off the hook with the final pass, which for us has got to be much better in the future matches. Yeah, you take control, but then again probably even the box score doesn't show that - even shots on goal probably doesn't show that - because we didn't connect that final ball and get good shots on goal which we want to dominate. Our style of soccer should produce goal scoring opportunities and it just didn't today."

They did finally come though, and the frustration abated some, in the 64th minute for the Bucs. Ramos sent a low ball in from just outside the right side of the box, finding Jarrett for a one-time finish from about 14 yards.

The two sides continued to battle with the intensity growing with each passing foul, called or not, or scoring opportunity as the game progressed.

The best chance for a Whitworth winner came when an Eric Espinoza corner in the 72nd minute was headed off the crossbar by Colin Shockman (pictured above), and Corban's best look at grabbing the victory - shorthanded - came with two-and-a-half minutes left on a great counter. With numbers in their advantage, they slipped the ball from the right to left, finding Bobby Hutchin with a wide open look from about eight yards. Watters, however, recovered and made a great diving save to preserve the draw.

"It was us, I think, pushing for the win and getting caught on the counter. Not dealing with two of their front-runners when they pushed another man high, which is risky for them," said Cathey. "They were down a man and they pushed another player high, which I really like that they did that. I really like that they were taking chances to win the game, and it kept us honest the whole time. I really enjoyed the game; it was a hard-fought game as well.

"They are a good team and they don't stop working. They are a team that works very hard and believes they can win games even if they just have a (small) threat - you gotta love their belief. They were great, and they were missing their best player today - I think.

"That was a team I think is gonna win the CCC again, which I think is a very good NAIA conference. They've got some fantastic players, and just great belief and good coach.

"They are a good picture of some of the top teams that we will face in our conference," Cathey said of the benefits from playing Corban. "They pose a lot of difficult things for us as for as sorting out a good front-runner. This is what its for. Its for us to learn and get prepared for the NWC, which is all we are concentrating on everyday - learning to get there. We want to be there, and we know that if we keep learning and we keep being excellent at everything we do, we are gonna grow and we are gonna get better; so thats the most important thing."

The victory pushed Whitworth's unbeaten regular season streak (11-0-1) to a dozen games dating back to last season. They play their final non-conference game next Sunday in Salem, Ore. against UC Santa Cruz. They opened the year with three games in the midwest, posting comeback victories over Millikin and St Thomas on either side of a 1-0 upset win over 15th-ranked Wheaton, the host of the first two games.

"It was fantastic for us. Again - learning - our team learning the tendencies we need to work on," Cathey said. "I thought our game against Wheaton was the most complete performance we've had in our exhibitions and preseason games so far, which is easy to get up for the biggest game that we've played in the last 18 months. But, I want them to get up every game.

"There were some games we didn't put our best foot forward, and we almost got punished by some teams that we were better than on the day. We let them have leads and we had to come from behind just like we had to do today, again. It shows our character - we can come from behind, - but it also shows that we need to work on not allowing teams opportunities."

Ramos was the star of the trip. The senior striker picked up where he left off at over the summer as the leading scorer for the Shadow - second-best in the Evergreen Premier League - by tallying four goals and two assists in a performance that included a last-second winner in the opener and an assist on the late winner at Wheaton.

"He's a fantastic player and his work rate is unbelievable; and that's what I love most about him," Cathey said of his contributions. "His character comes through in how he plays. He's never gonna stop; he always wants more. He's so hungry to drive this team to do its best just like everybody else. And he's been rewarded for that. A few of his goals have been in the last 15 minutes of games just because he wants it more; and that's what I love about him. His individual technical ability is awesome, but it's his desire and his passion to be as successful as he can that I think makes us the best; makes us better."