By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
SPOKANE, Wash. -- Willamette University built a 3-0 lead with one goal in the first half and two goals in the first 7:30 of the second half, as the Bearcats defeated Whitworth University, 3-1, in a Northwest Conference men's soccer game on Saturday, Sept. 30. The Bearcats, who have won six consecutive games, improved to 6-3 on the season and to 5-0 in the Northwest Conference. Whitworth dropped to 3-6-1 overall, 1-3-1 in the NWC.
It was Willamette's first win at Whitworth since before 1998. The Bearcats earned ties at Whitworth in 2000 (2-2) and in 2013 (1-1). Whitworth has won nine of the past 13 NWC titles, inlcluding 2014, 2015 and 2016.
"When you play the best team in our conference -- three-time defending champions -- you have to be at your best," Willamette Head Coach Lloyd Fobi said. "We were all that and more ... but this league is a game at a time business ... we will enjoy this win, but we have to move on quickly because a very good resurging team in Whitman College is awaiting us."
On Saturday, the Bearcats took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Hijiri Iijima (So., M, Kodamacho, Japan/Honjyodaiichi) at 23:19. While working to steal the ball from a Whitworth defender, Iijima's efforts forced the ball away, causing it to slowly cross the goal line. Each team took six shots in the first half, but Willamette had all five shots that were on target, and Iijima's goal held up at the break.
Willamette increased its advantage to 2-0 when Alan Hernandez (Sr., F, Tigard, OR/Tigard HS) scored early in the second half at 47:31. Iijima assisted on the play.
At 52:30, the Bearcats claimed a 3-0 lead with a goal by Nicholas Ballenger (So., F, Salem, OR/West Salem HS) at 52:30. It was Ballenger's team-leading goal of the season. Hernandez assisted on the goal and is now second in the NWC with four assists.
Whitworth's only goal was scored by Moi Diaz at 79:30. Jonah Snyder earned an assist on the play.
The Pirates outshot the Bearcats 16-9 overall, including 10-3 as they pressed forward to attempt a rally. Willamette finished the game with a 7-4 margin in shots on goal. Whitworth earned a 4-3 lead in corner kicks. Whitworth goalkeeper Jesus Nunez registered all four of his saves in the first half, while Bearcats goalie Marco Gonzalez-Yanez (Jr., GK, Portland, OR/Central Catholic HS/U. of Portland) made all three of his saves in the second half.
After gaining a 5-0 record in the NWC, the Bearcats lead the conference standings with 15 points. Pacific University, University of Puget Sound and Whitman are tied for second place at 3-2 and nine points.
Willamette will play at Whitman on Sunday (Oct. 1). Game time in Walla Walla, Washington, is set for 2:30 p.m. (PDT).