Slowing down an offense that had sparked a three-game winning streak, Hope International reaffirmed its status as the GSAC’s top team Saturday afternoon, shutting out The Master’s College 1-0 in Placerita Canyon.
The Mustangs’ loss, their first since September 23, snapped the club’s three-match skein, dropping it to 6-6-1 overall and 3-2-1 (10 points) in the GSAC where they sit in fourth place, two points behind Concordia and one ahead of fifth-place Vanguard. Meanwhile, the Royals improved to 6-0 in conference play with 18 points.
After scoring nine times during their winning streak, the Mustangs managed only four shots on goal, including some near-misses, and had a goal reversed en route to being zeroed out for the fifth time in 2014.
Despite the tough loss, Mustang coach Jim Rickard said, “We played well today but made an early defensive error and couldn’t score.”
That defensive lapse caused the Mustangs to play catch-up nearly the entire way after Hope’s Eduardo Zavala took a looping pass from Jesse Sandoval and one-timed it past Mustang goalie Kyle Cunningham (Saugus, CA) with 3:03 gone in the match.
At the 9:34 mark, Humphrey Mahowa (Malawi, Africa) almost produced the equalizer but Royal keeper Manuel Madrigal stopped the shot just as he did nearly three minutes later (12:13) on a Joey Mikulas (Monument, CO) strike.
Those were the Mustangs’ only two shots on goal during an opening half in which they outshot the Royals 8-5. The club just averted disaster in the match’s 17th minute (16:36) when the ball got loose in front of the Mustang net where it was cleared before Hope could double its advantage.
The Mustangs came out firing in the first few minutes of the second stanza with Mikulas missing high at the 46:19 mark and then shooting one that Madrigal saved over five minutes later (51:59). Madrigal turned back Mikulas one more time at the 75:54 mark for his final save of the afternoon.
Speaking of his team’s inability to put the ball in the net, Rickard said, “We moved the ball better than in any other game this year but had a hard time getting quality shots off on the goal.”
All of that had to do with a stingy Royal defense that Rickard said “was the most well-organized defensive team we’ve played all year.”
The Mustangs weren’t too bad, either, as Cunningham (four saves in the second stanza) and his defensive mates came up big in the closing half, keeping the club just one big kick away from tying the match.
They appeared to get it, too, when Jamison Kropilak (Portland, OR) headed the ball in from point-blank range with 2:36 left to play. However, Kropilak was ruled offside and the goal was nullified.
Now, the Mustangs hope to start another streak, one that will take them into the postseason on a high note. The regular season-ending stretch of four conference games starts next Wednesday (October 15) at Vanguard.