ORANGE, Calif. — Nathan Gonzalez scored his fifth game-winning goal of the season, Josh Ramirez made spectacular saves and the University of La Verne men's soccer team pulled out a 1-0 win over Chapman in the first round of the SCIAC Postseason Tournament on Wednesday night.
La Verne will travel to Redlands for the championship game on Saturday. The top-seeded Bulldogs beat Occidental, 3-1, in the other semifinal game. The winner of the La Verne-Redlands matchup will receive the SCIAC's automatic berth to the NCAA National Championship tournament.
Chapman put all kinds of pressure on La Verne to start the second half, putting in sharp crosses, earning free kicks in dangerous areas and getting shots off near the edge of the box.
The opportunities were few and far between for the Leopards, but one chance was all Gonzalez needed. With rare possession of the ball in the attacking third, Gonzalez quickly initiated a play with Alfredo Garcia down the left side. Garcia made a good run down the wing, cut into the box and pulled back a perfect pass to Gonzalez who was streaking down the middle and Gonzalez finished it off with a sliding shot in the 75th minute.
"It was a gutsy effort from our guys," La Verne head coach Trevor Persson said. "Chapman came out on fire in the second half and we just had to weather the storm. We made some tactical changes. Great win, great experience."
Gonzalez might have scored the winner, but goalkeeper Ramirez—who missed the last three games with an injury—turned in a massive effort in net to give the Leopards a chance. He made a diving one-handed save in the first half that looked to be a sure goal to keep the game tied and made a number of big plays in the second half, including another diving save on point-blank range attempt by Kannon Kuhn in the 80th minute to preserve the lead. He finished with four total saves and cut off a number of crosses and free kicks with authority.
"[Josh] came in pretty pumped to prove himself again and made two or three huge saves," Persson said. "We had to lean on him and he saved us and got our energy level up."
Chapman outshot La Verne, 11-2, and outdrew La Verne in corner kicks, 5-0, but the Leopards stayed disciplined and made the plays they needed.
More information on the final at Redlands will be announced tomorrow. The Leopards beat the Bulldogs, 1-0, in the regular season finale and split the season series.