Soccer Lions surprise CBC, 5-1, advance to NCCAA Nationals in Orlando
SAGU pulls soccer shocker behind Sturgeon, Martinez
WAXAHACHIE, Texas -- It doesn’t classify as large as the surprise when Harry Truman stunned the nation by winning the presidency over the media favorite, Thomas Dewey, in 1948. It only felt like it on Saturday.
Still, the sixth seeded men’s soccer team from Southwestern Assemblies of God University winning a trip to nationals by shocking the six-team tournament field amazed many. They upset Central Baptist College in the finals, 5-1.
After finishing seventh in the 12-team Red River Athletic Conference under first year head coach Gerald Nichols, Jr., they entered the Central Regional of the National Christian College Athletic Association. Based on the Longo rating system, they were ranked last in the group.
They faced the top-seeded Central Baptist (Ark) Mustangs, a team who had defeated them (4-2) earlier this season and who has enjoyed a mastery over SAGU in recent years.
The Lions got two goals just twenty-two seconds apart only nineteen minutes into the match. The startling effect gave them a huge momentum swing, allowing them to dictate the pace of the game.
Already quicker than the larger, skilled Mustangs, the Lions speedy defenders clamped down to bridle the Pony Express that outscored SAGU by a 57-34 count in regular season goals.
Late in the first half, holding steady to the 2-0 advantage, came another bang-bang scoring barrage by Southwestern. A second pair of tallies, this time separated by 1:32, broke the Chargers.
The second half saw the two teams swap goals as the Lions closed out a convincing win.
Fans streamed onto the field to celebrate with the players, who wore their gold, road uniforms as is the custom in tournaments and playoffs. The higher-seed or better ranking provides for those teams to wear their choice of threads, usually what they wear at home.
The Lions also doused Coach Nichols and Assistant Coach Clem Oancea (WAHN-cha) in ice water. They also danced in a circle and chanted “Flor-id-a! Flor-id-a! Flor-id-a!”
By winning the regional championship, SAGU received an automatic bid to the NCCAA Nationals, which will be held November 30 through December 3 in Orlando (Kissimmee), Florida. Seven region winners and one at-large berth comprise an 8-team group bound for the Sunshine State.
SAGU, with a 10-7-4 mark are the first team in school history to have a winning record and the first to experience a post-season victory, let alone the only one to advance this far. In terms of distance, it is approximately 1,100 miles from Dallas to Orlando. The Lions will take to the road on Monday or Tuesday.
For the team’s senior captain, Sam Cabrera, it will be a homecoming of sorts. He is from Tampa, where he attended Hillsborough Community College after graduating from Tampa Baptist Academy. He will serve as unofficial host for the team, whose trip to Kissimmee is 75 miles from his hometown.
Parker Sturgeon sparks offense
Southwestern freshman Parker Sturgeon (Bartlesville, Ok / Bartlesville HS) had a sensational game, scoring twice and assisting on another. He took a feed from Danny Martinez (Houston, Tx / Cypress Creek HS), maneuvered through a double-team to break in on the keeper. From there he blasted a shot high into the left side of the netting 19:10 into the contest.
Before the band could strike up the SAGU fight song, the Lions struck again. A quick turnover at midfield enabled Jonathan Ramos (Tegucilgapas, Honduras / Garringer HS, Charlotte, NC) to zoom down the left sideline. His cross to the middle hit Rolando Hernandez (Hidalgo, Michoacán; Mex / Garringer HS, Charlotte, NC) in stride. He controlled the pass with one touch and triggered a cannonball through a crowd and past a defenseless goalie at 19:32.
The Mustangs fought to recover. They found the back line of Cabrera, David Flores (Farmers Branch, Tx / R.L. Turner HS), Riffin Kajangu (D.R. of Congo / UNC-Greensboro), Edward Perez (Dallas, TX / Thomas Jefferson HS) and Salvador Avila (Irving, TX / MacArthur HS) a challenge on Saturday. Their physical brand of man-to-man defense was fast and furious.
CBC had three excellent opportunities, one from point blank range, each dashed by cat-quick goalie Cesar Galvan (Allen, Tx / Lovejoy HS).
Late in the half the Lions scored another pair of goals to bury the favorites.
Joe Ballah (Monrovia, Liberia / Independence HS, Charlotte, NC), who had to sit out the first two games in the regional, entered the fray. During a counter-attack, Sturgeon broke free and spotted Ballah on the right flank. He sped past a defender and, just as the keeper approached, sent a low smash inside the right post that looked to be the last place he’d try to squeeze a shot. His tally at 42:07 gave SAGU a 3-0 margin.
Ballah is known both for his competitive fire and for scoring from sharp angles. Along with James Swearingin (Arlington, TX / Home School), he co-led the Lions in scoring in 2010.
SAGU hit the ditto button. Again. This time it was Martinez, who scored twice on Friday in a 2-0 win over Mid-America Christian University. The junior forward took a pass from Will Elliot (Mesquite, TX / Cathedral of Life Christian School) in the box and unleashed the kraken. His shot from eight-yards ripped the nets at 43:39 for a commanding 4-0 advantage.
Martinez appeared offside to many, but the call was not made by the side judge.
To their credit, the Mustangs (10-9-1) remained focused and never allowed emotions to spill over into fouls of frustration. Credit the players’ composure to Justin Hawkins, their veteran Head Coach. He entered this season with a 51-23-5 record in five seasons in Conway, Arkansas.
They broke the shutout early in the second stanza. Christian Saavedra assisted Matt Cole near the mark, and the senior fired his 12th goal of the season and second in as many days. It came about five minutes into the half at 49:57. It would be their only.
Southwestern weathered a valiant bid to mount a comeback, staving off any dreams of a rally.
The game was iced almost thirty-minutes later. Sturgeon, like the freshwater leviathan, was huge. And swift. The freshman took the ball away from a Mustang player on SAGU’s side of the field and darted the right flank, veering toward the box. There the speed-merchant deked the netminder and rang the death knell at 77:48.
Sturgeon and Martinez each scored three times during the Lions surprising 3-0 run in the tournament. Martinez now has 14 for the season.
SAGU finished with a 14-11 edge in shots and had three of the game’s four cornerkicks. The game was well controlled by one of the NCAA Division I’s best officials, who called 18 infractions against the Lions. CBC had 10 fouls. SAGU was cited for four offside violations. CBC had one.
Galvan made six saves between the pipes and his backup, Cesar Espana (Katy, TX / Cinco Ranch HS), collected two saves in his 13 minutes as the keeper.
The upstart Lions completed their improbable three-day trek from low-seed to good seed, harvesting the first fruits in SAGU soccer history.
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NCCAA National Tournament
The seeding for the eight-team nationals was released on Sunday and, to no surprise, SAGU was the #8 seed. They will take on the #1 seed, California Baptist University, the winner of the west region. The match is set for Wednesday, November 30 at 4:00pm (CST).
If SAGU wins, they will play on Thursday at 6:30pm (CST) against the winner of the Cedarville University (13-6-1) versus Oakland City University (11-5-1) game. An opening round defeat would send the Lions to a 1:30 (CST) contest.
All games will be livestreamed for fans for free. Details on the tourney and access will be posted in the coming days.
The complete field at nationals includes:
#1 California Baptist Univ “Lancers” (15-5-0), Riverside, Cal - West Region
#2 Palm Beach Atlantic Univ “Sailfish” (12-7-0), West Palm Beach, Fla - South Region
#3 Judson Univ “Eagles” (13-8-1), Elgin/Chicago, Ill - North-Central Region
#4 Cedarville Univ “Yellow Jackets” (13-6-1), Cedarville/Dayton, Oh - Midwest Region
#5 Oakland City Univ “Mighty Oaks” (11-5-1), Oakland City, Ind - Mideast Region
#6 Grace College “Lancers” (10-7-4), Winona Lake/Ft. Wayne, Ind - At-Large berth
#7 Geneva College “Golden Tornadoes” (14-5-3), Beaver Falls/Pittsburgh, Pa - East Region
#8 SAGU “Lions” (10-7-4), Waxahachie/Dallas, Tex - Central Region