By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
SALEM, Ore. -- Linfeld College defeated Willamette University, 2-1, on Saturday, Nov. 3 at Sparks Field, preventing the Bearcats from earning a victory and the three points needed to win the Northwest Conference men's soccer title. In order to win the title, Willamette needed a victory against Linfield and for Pacific Lutheran University to lose or tie against University of Puget Sound, also on Saturday. The Lutes lost to the Loggers, 1-0, but the Bearcats were unable to rally against Linfield, which led 2-0 in the second half.
A goal by Hikaru Ichigi (Jr., M, Kobe, Japan/Fujiigakuen Sangawa) at 79:50 pulled Willamette within 2-1. The Bearcats battled hard the rest of the way, but the Wildcats held on for the win. Even before Ichigi scored, Willamette had created great scoring chances during the game, but the Bearcats hit the cross bar once, hit a post once, and had a goal disallowed by an offside call.
Linfield improved to 6-9-3 overall, 4-7-3 in the NWC. Willamette ended the season at 11-4-4, including 8-3-3 (27 points) in the NWC. Last year, Willamette and Pacific Lutheran tied for the NWC title, with the Bearcats receiving the NWC's automatic bid into the NCAA Division III Tournament.
Pacific Lutheran will at least share this year's NWC Championship at 9-3-2 (29 points). Whitman College, 8-3-2 (26 points), can tie the Lutes for the title with a win tonight against Whitworth University, but the Lutes hold the tie-breaker with a 1-0-1 record versus the Blues.
"Life lessons are learned in different ways and these young men came to college to become better people," Willamette Head Coach Lloyd Fobi said regarding his players. "Today's game taught us one of those life lessons ... nothing is guaranteed. I want to thank everyone at Willamette who has supported us. I want to thank my players and assistant coaches for the blood, sweat and tears we have put into building this program."
Neither team scored during the first half. Linfield held a 15-7 lead in total shots over the first 45 minutes, but Willamette had the best chance to score.
The top opportunity for the Bearcats in the first half was on shot by Josh Schneider (Fr., F, Washoughal, WA/Camas HS) that went into the goal from 6 yards out, but the play was ruled offside on what appeared to be a very close play. Earlier, Willamette had another quality chance stopped when three players were pulled offside on a long through ball against a Linfield trap.
Both teams created plenty of chances throughout the second half. Willamette goalie Mason Kelliher (Jr., GK, Wellington, N.Z./Wellington College) stopped shots by Dayton farrow at 47:06 and by Irvin Figueroa at 48:25. Ichigi took a header for Willamette at 49:55 that almost put the Bearcts in front on the scoreboad, but the ball hit the crossbar.
Linfield took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Jake Prodzinski at 57:27. Prodzinski scored on a header from 5 yards out that went into the lower left corner of the net. The goal was assisted by Conor Heintz on a cross form the left side of the field.
The Wildcats doubled their advantage about 12 minutes later at 69:48. Heintz scored from 10-yards out after receiving a long throw-in from Ronan Krutzikowsky. Willamette nearly answered less than three minutes later, but a header by Omar Dominguez Pascasio (So., M/D, Madras, OR/Madras HS) bounced off the left post.
Willmette pulled within 2-1 on Ichigi's goal with just over 10 minutes left. He scored on a header for 10 yards that went high into the net. It was Ichigi's fourth goal of the season. Quinn Mello-Bastida (Sr., F, San Jose, CA/Valley Christian HS/U. of Portland) provided a quality cross from the left side for his team-leading seventh assist.
The Bearcats took three shots and Linfield had one shot the rest of the way, but both teams battled to get the ball into scoring position. A header by Schneider was saved by Linfeld goalkeeper Nick Van Kleek at 81:26. A bit later at 85:03, a shot by Nicholas Ballenger (Jr., F, Salem, OR/West Salem HS) of Willamette was stopped by Van Kleek. Kelliher registered a save on a shot by Romario Mendoza at 87:30. Ichigi missed just high on a 23-yard shot with 14 seconds left in the game.
Linfield recorded a 27-18 advantage in total shots and a 9-6 edge in shots on goal. The Wildcats gained a 6-4 margin in corner kicks, but each team had three in the second half.
Kelliher earned seven saves for the Bearcats. Van Kleek made four saves for Linfield. Isaias Flores added a team save for Linfield when the Wildcats were leading 1-0 by stopping a rolling shot by Ballenger just before it could curl into the net at 64:02.
Prior to the game, Willamette's eight seniors were honors. They are Matthew Alcala (Sr./Jr., M, Whittier, CA/La Serna HS), PJ Gibson (Sr., D, Carmel, IN/Carmel HS), Marco Gonzalez (Sr., F, Independence, OR/Central HS), Eric Keefe (Sr., M, Wellington, N.Z./Wellington College), Maxwell McKee (Sr., M, Coronado, CA/Coronado HS), Quinn Mello-Bastida (Sr., F, San Jose, CA/Valley Christian HS/U. of Portland), Joe Plaster (Sr., D, San Diego, CA/University City HS) and Keaton Turnipseed (Sr., F, Sacramento, CA/Capital Christian HS).
The team also honored ASP students Shotaro Fukami (So., D, Ebina, Japan/Asahi), Hikaru Ichigi (Jr., M, Kobe, Japan/Fujiigakuen Sangawa), Yuki Onishi (So., M, Yokohama, Japan/Yamanashi Gakuin) and Yuta Suga (So., M, Urawa, Japan/RKU).
Big Moment of the Game for Willamette
Hikaru Ichigi continued his strong play this season by
scoring on a header for the Bearcats at 79:50 to pull
Willamette within one goal. Earlier, Ichigi had a header
that hit the crossbar at 49:55 when the game was still
scoreless. Later, in the final minute, he took a 23-yard
shot that went barely over the crossbar.