By Christian Manoukian
Two giants toppled. Two nationally ranked undefeated teams sent home. Two pulse-pounding games saw men’s soccer advance to the NCAA Tournament Final Four for the second time in three seasons.
No. 2 California Baptist and No. 1 Midwestern State University will be pondering how they allowed themselves to be beaten by sixth seeded Cal Poly Pomona.
“I’m telling you, Cal Poly Pomona has this blue-collar grit and determination to us, and there’s something in these boys, a hunger, that other teams just can’t match,”head coach Adam Reeves said.
No one predicted CPP to make it far in this season’s NCAA Division II tournament. As of last week, they were not ranked in the top 25 teams in the country by a United Soccer Coaches poll.
After Midwestern State took the lead on home soil five minutes into the second half of Saturday’s game, it looked as if every analyst would be vindicated in their pre-match predictions.
A floated cross from the right wing landed at the feet of MSU sophomore midfielder Sebastian Venegas, who lashed his foot across the ball and scored via a wicked deflection off a CPP defender.
If MSU were expecting CPP to roll over and give up on the match, then they had not studied the game tape enough.
CPP clawed its way back into the game just seven minutes later when senior forward Sergi Monso converted a penalty after senior midfielder Dante Medina was clumsily tackled from behind by sophomore defender Koby Sapon-Amoah.
MSU struck again, this time with 15 minutes remaining with what seemed to be the decisive goal for the Mustangs.
Senior Scott Doney, the 6 foot 5 inch forward from New Zealand, rose mightily to meet a cross from junior defender Alex Mullet and sent the ball off the crossbar and in.
Even Doney’s goal was not enough for the Broncos to lose hope.
“There’s something about our boys, they have this fight in them and desire to never give up, and this quality is something that has been instilled in CPP teams for many years,” Reeves said.
Eight minutes from time CPP dug deep and tied the game again.
Again it was the combination of Medina and Monso, with the forward playing a slick pass outside to Medina before continuing his run into the box and meeting Medina’s low cross firmly to send the ball under the arms of Mustangs’ freshman goalkeeper Kyle Lampe to send the game into overtime.
“We always believed in ourselves, and somewhere inside of us we knew we were going to take it, and that belief fueled us to fight back,” Medina said.
The teams remained deadlocked through both overtime periods as both sets of players struggled with fatigue and heavy legs.
It fell to a penalty shootout to decide which team would advance to the Final Four.
Both teams remained perfect in the shootout until the Mustangs’ sixth taker, defender Jordan Speed, hit the crossbar.
Senior midfielder Kevin Martinez needed to score to send Cal Poly Pomona into the Final Four.
Martinez buried his penalty in the top left corner, sending the Broncos’ players and coaching staff streaming onto the field in jubilation.
The win ended MSU’s 22-game unbeaten run dating back to the start of September.
“Our chemistry has been increasing, and as a team we are really united right now, which makes us a very scary team to face, and we proved that tonight against the number one team in the nation,” Medina said.
This recurring theme of unity, belief and resilience was hailed by many in the squad as the key difference between them and other “bigger” teams, and it was evident in a West Regional Championship win on Thursday against No. 2 Cal Baptist.
They faced the nation’s top scorer in CBU senior forward Aidan Apodaca.
CPP used every ounce of focus and concentration to stay tight and compact and deny any CBU player space to score.
CPP took the lead just ten minutes into the game, when senior midfielder Jose Garcia slipped in between two defenders to chest down a delicate chipped pass from senior forward Luis Najera Jr., took one touch and slotted the ball home.
As CPP settled for defending its slim lead by sitting a bit deeper, CBU increased the pressure on the Broncos backline, peppering the goal with 26 shots.
CBU’s efforts were not enough to beat the Broncos backline and senior goalkeeper Jason Trejos, who made five saves.
“You can bend, but don’t break; that’s been our motto since the postseason has begun and as we’ve played increasingly skilled teams, we’ve learned how to bend and adapt but never, ever break,” Reeves said.
The Broncos have still not achieved their goal and are hungry for more.
“We know that the job is not done yet, and that we have not accomplished anything yet,” senior defender Pol Bartra said. “People are happy today, of course; but in our case, we have a clear goal, and that is to win the National Championship, so our mind is on Kansas in little over a week’s time.”
The Broncos travel to Kansas City, Missouri for the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament as they face the University of Charleston, the top-seed out of the Atlantic region, and No. 3 ranked team in the nation on Thursday, Nov. 30.
Courtesy of CPP Sports Information
Men’s soccer beat No. 2 Cal Baptist to win the NCAA Division II West Region for the second time in three years
Courtesy of Zeno Ferguson
Kevin Martinez scored the winning penalty kick that sent Cal Poly Pomona to the Final Four
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