ST. GEORGE – Undefeated, untied and undisputed PacWest Conference champions. The Dixie State men’s soccer team completed an unprecedented run in the Pacific West by reeling off 15 straight wins after beginning the season 0-3. The Trailblazers finished the conference 13-0, a full three games in front of second-place Concordia, after Saturday’s 2-1 win over Cal Baptist ion the season finale.
“Honestly, I think we deserve this,” said junior defenseman and team captain Bryan Baugh.
The Blazers are only two years removed from a 2-12-2 season. Last year, the university hired Josh Pittman to coach the team. Pittman brought with him a solid coaching philosophy and, even more important, an attitude that transformed the team last year.
DSU went from last place in 2014 to playing for the conference championship against Fresno State in the final game of the season. The Blazers came up short and finished second. And a few months later Pittman moved on to Westminster University.
“We have kept Coach Pittman’s game philosophy,” said Baugh. “But more important, we have kept the attitude he instilled. Last year we were good, but we were still missing some pieces. This year’s freshmen have been very key to our success. We lost our first three games while we worked some things out. I don’t think we would lose them now.”
DSU’s current head coach, Nyle Ortiz agreed. “I feel bad sometimes because I have some very talented upperclassmen on my bench,” he said. “They would be playing more minutes elsewhere, but they have accepted their roles for the betterment of the team.”
Cal Baptist was one of six teams picked above Dixie State in the PacWest preseason poll and came to St. George with a slim possibility of postseason play.
“We wrapped up the conference earlier this week,” said Ortiz. “Cal Baptist had more to play for. I told the guys to stay focused.”
The focus paid off as the Trailblazers withstood a first half that saw the Lancers outshoot them 6-3. The half ended scoreless.
In the second half, Dixie State scored quickly. Angel Estrada took the pass from Dominic Damato in the center of the field and had a point-blank shot into the lower part of the net at the 52:47 mark. It was Estrada’s third goal of the year.
The Blazers scored again at the 75:29 mark. For the third consecutive game, a throw-in by Baugh led to a goal, this time off the foot of Bernard Manuel at the center of the box.
If the Blazers relaxed at all, a quick goal by the Lancers woke them up. Just over a minute later, a foul on Dixie State in the box led to a penalty kick for the Lancers. Luca Tschaidse converted to halve the lead.
The DSU defense held, however, and Cal Baptist did not attempt a shot for the remainder of the game.
Shots on both teams were tied (13-13) but the Blazers held the advantage for shots on goal (9-4). Blake Damato, Moises Medina and Estrada each had two shots on goal.
The Blazers finish 15-3 and were ranked fourth in the last NCAA West Region rankings. Two of the teams in front of them lost this past week. The NCAA pairings will come out Monday. The first round will be played November 10-11.
Dixie State 2, California Baptist 1 (OT)
The Dixie State women’s soccer team ended the season on a good note with an overtime victory over visiting Cal Baptist. The Lancers were playing for the PacWest Conference season championship. The Trailblazers were playing for pride.
“We were eliminated from contention earlier this week,” said Alexis Torres. “This was our playoff game. We wanted to end on a good note and beat a good team.”
The loss knocked Cal Baptist to a second-place finish in the conference while the Trailblazers finished tied for third with Concordia. Azusa Pacific edged ahead of the Lancers by one point.
After a scoreless first half, the Lancers struck first in the second half. At the 67:37 mark Jordan Dow scored. Dixie State responded immediately. Ten seconds later Erica Gonzalez evened the match on a breakaway. She was assisted by Megan Spencer and Capri Goldsmith.
“We tell our girls the best time to score a goal is the in the first five minutes after the other team has scored,” said Dixie State head coach Kacey Bingham.
Neither team could get the game winner in regulation. Before overtime began Coach Bingham called the team together. “We reminded them that we had several close games this year against good teams where we did not get the desired end result,” said Bingham. “I told them this was a chance to reverse that with the last game.”
For the first nine minutes of overtime, the game remained tied. But with 45 seconds left, the Trailblazers got a throw-in on the far side. Nichole Mertz performed her acrobatic somersault toss. The ball flew high and bounced before Darian McCloy shot the ball to the upper left of the net to get the win.
The game marked the last one for Gonzalez, Spencer, Torres, Aubri Detmer, Angelica Ciucci and Danica Hansen. Dixie State ended the year 9-4 in the PacWest and 11-7 overall.
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