Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Whitworth men sail past Willamette, put title repeat in reach

The senior Pirates did a lot of celebrating Sunday, starting from the pre-game ceremony where they were recognized for their time with the program - which boasts the best four-year win percentage in program history - and continuing into the match versus Willamette, a dominant 6-1 victory.

The scoring started early when Sam Donaldson made a run up the right side with the  ball and sent a low cross in toward the near post where Karl Muelheims redirected past the keeper for his league-leading 18th tally of the season.

Fifteen minutes later Muelheims turned provider. While going away from goal just outside the box with the ball on the right side, he quickly spun around and fired in toward the near post, finding Engle for the redirect past Braydon Calder again.

Muelheims nearly had a second goal three minutes later when he drove forward off the right edge of the penalty arc and sent a shot from about 16 yards off the post.

"Honestly one of my most favorite games I have had here," said Whitworth Head Coach Morgan Cathey. "For us to finish our first two chances (was great). Yesterday was a long day because their keeper made amazing saves on our first two chances, but today to put our first two chances in, really take the game to them and some of the soccer we played today was just amazing, amazing to watch.

"Really, I sat down in my chair more today than I've ever sat down during a game. I am just so proud of the way our guys mentally came into the game to be super free, to be competitive to honor the seniors. And the way that they played was amazing. So awesome to watch; so awesome to watch."

The visitors nearly cut into the deficit in the 27th minute when a free kick about 35 yards out from Jack Elton was saved onto the crossbar by senior Shane Nishioka-Healy. The loose ball on the rebound was headed seconds later by Liam Main, but it too hit the bar. The resulting scramble for control inside the six finished with Nishioka-Healy collecting the ball on another effort from Main.

Muelheims equalled the program's single-season scoring record of 19 goals by John Gould (1988) with an amazing tally. After receiving the ball from Engle about 45 yards out from goal well out on the left side, he proceeded to charge his way up the flank. Despite several defenders tracking along with him and trying to halt the run, he continued forward and cut inside the box, firing from an angle about 13 yards out to put the match out of reach.

Though in command, a free kick just under a minute later about 30 yards out on the left side created some anxiety when it found the head of Matt Baur, but the crossbar again denied the Bearcats.

Whitworth pushed the lead to four in the 59th on another fantastic tally. A ball from the back line - just shy of the center circle - by Caleb Bia was arched over the top of the defense, which was sitting high at the time, and allowed Eric Espinoza to run onto it, making a deft first touch to control and continue his run into the box. Once inside the area, he stopped and weighed his options, choosing to chip a lofted ball over the keeper to the far post where Jonah Snyder dove in head first to nod home from a few yards out.

A shot later in the 66th minute by Espinoza led to the next tally when it was blocked and took a few deflections in the box before Tyler Cardinale charged in to put it away at the left post.

The next bit of brilliance came in the 82nd when it looked like the ball was going to go out with Tanner Stepp under pressure by Bearcats at midfield inches from the touchline after a cleared Whitworth corner. Instead, he made a fantastic trick touch with the ball to keep it in and give him the opportunity to serve the ball to the far side of the box where Christian Haas cut inside and fired past the keeper from about 14 yards.

The lone tally from the visitors came in the dying minutes of the match after Tony Watters had entered the game in relief for usual starter Timmy Costa, who was in goal for the second half. Watters misplayed his dribbling of the ball at the top of the box under a bit of pressure, allowing Eric Spresser to force a turnover and drive to the near left post. Despite Watters' efforts to recover and defensive help, the Bearcat striker was able to spoil the shutout with just under four minutes remaining.

The victory keeps the Pirates (11-1-1) one point in front of Pacific Lutheran (11-2-0) with both finishing their campaigns next Saturday against their regional foes. Whitworth wraps things up at last-place Whitman (2-9-2) while the Lutes play host to third-place Puget Sound (7-4-2). A victory (or PLU loss) would give Whitworth the conference's first repeat champion since the Pirates won three consecutive from 2007-09. In fact, since 2000, Whitworth is the only program to repeat, having also won back-to-back in 2004 and 2005.

"It's gonna go down to the wire. All we can control is ourselves, and all they can control is themselves," Cathey said. "All I would say is I definitely fancy ourselves playing against Whitman the way that we are playing. I would put all the cards on us going and being very competitive in that game because we have played some of the best soccer all year the last two games. I am just excited to watch them play again. I wish it was next Saturday tomorrow. It will be fun."

-- INWsn --