Lions impressive in loss to champs
SAGU prepares to host NCCAA Regional
Ballah header ties game before Tillotson take crown, 3-1
WAXAHACHIE, Texas -- Displaying a gritty defense and an undying spirit, the Southwestern Assemblies of God University men’s soccer team battled tooth-and-nail with Huston-Tillotson University in a 3-1 setback at Pride Park.
The visitors needed a penalty kick to snap a 1-1 tie against the host Lions, who were gunning for an upset of the high-climbing Rams. The teams exchanged hard-to-come-by shots in which both squads finished with 11.
The penalty kick by Frank Toscano , 35:41 into the match, gave Tillotson a 2-1 lead they never relinquished.
Citing Riffin Kajangu (D.R. Congo / UNC-Charlotte) for a questionable foul inside the box, the official awarded the direct free kick from twelve yards out. Players succeed at a very high rate from that distance.
Lions sophomore goalie Cesar Galvan (Allen, Tx / Lovejoy HS) leaped high to his left and got a hand on the ball, but Toscano’s blast powered into the netting.
It was the second of the game and 14th goal this season for the native of El Salvador, who is tied (Ivan Kovacevic , TWU) for the goal-lead in the Red River Athletic Conference and #22 nationally.
Catalino Rodriguez assisted on a game-clinching score by Cesar Silva (both of whom have nine goals) at the 47:31 mark.
Players doused head coach Arick Lassiter with a tub of ice and water at the end of the contest, which clinched the RRAC regular season title for the Rams. The maroon-clad team finished at 15-2-1 overall and 10-1 in the league.
Southwestern (7-7-4, 4-5-2 RRAC), who narrowly missed qualifying for their third berth in the Red River tournament, finished in seventh. The top six teams receive a bid for the tourney. Last year the Lions finished next-to-last with a 1-8 record in the conference (6-12 overall).
It was an inspired effort by new head coach Gerald Nichols’ squad, who had their chances against the top defense in the RRAC. The Rams, who have surrendered just 13 goals in 18 games, yielded grudgingly throughout the match.
The Lions knotted the score at 1-1 on a sensational play at 28:37 into the contest. Sophomore Joe Ballah (Monrovia, Liberia / Independence HS, Charlotte, NC) supplied a perfectly timed header while streaking across the goal-mouth. He redirected a pass from Danny Martinez (Houston, Tx / Cypress Creek HS) past the keeper, Marcos Sanchez, and into the meshwork.
Parker Sturgeon (Bartlesville, Ok / Bartlesville HS) was also given an assist on the play for his pin-point pass to Martinez that began the bing-bang-bonk sequence. It was a huge crowd-pleaser!
Southwestern trailed at intermission, 2-1. While on the short-end of a 6-2 margin in first half shots, the purple pinstripers never let-up. They controlled the ball for most of the final 45 minutes, concluding the game with a 9-5 advantage in attempts.
It was a physical battle, where the Rams appeared to be stronger. They benefitted from a lack of fouls called, ending the match with 11. SAGU was whistled for 10.
Of the Lions’ highlights, one memorable play was nearly golden. Sturgeon, who is tied for the league lead in assists with seven, sent an entry pass to Rolando Hernandez (Hidalgo, Michoacán; Mex / Garringer HS, Charlotte, NC). Having beaten his defender, Hernando’s header was snatched by Sanchez in the 59th minute.
Salvador Avila (Irving, Tx / MacArthur HS) uncorked a booming shot that hooked to the right corner from 28 yards. Sanchez knocked the ball away in the 61st. Galvan kept the Lions in the game with a save after a move by Silva looked to have eluded him.
A cross from Hernandez to Martinez was throttled by an 83rd minute Sanchez scoop. Lastly, Toscano triggered a shot that Galvan (7 saves) smothered a minute later.
Cats have post-season life
SAGU will begin preparing for the National Christian College Athletic Association’s Central Regional, hosted by Southwestern during November 17-19. The team could be one of the top two seeds when the schedule is drawn up in two weeks.