Bearcats Defeat Lutes, 3-1, in Battle of Defending NWC Co-Champions

Nicholas Ballenger (Jr., F, Salem, OR/West Salem HS)
Nicholas Ballenger (Jr., F, Salem, OR/West Salem HS)

By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications

TACOMA, Wash. -- In a battle of last year's Northwest Conference co-champions, Willamette University held a 2-1 lead at the halftime break and added a goal at 77:55 to defeat Pacific Lutheran University, 3-1, on Saturday, Sept. 15. It was the NWC opener for both teams. Willamette advanced its record to 4-1-1 overall, 1-0 in the NWC, while Pacific Lutheran fell to 4-3-0 overall, 0-1 in the NWC.

Last season, the Bearcats and the Lutes each finished at 9-3-2 in the NWC (29 points) to tie for first place. The co-championship was Willamette's first conference title in men's soccer. The Bearcats held the tie-breaker for  the NWC's automatic bid into the NCAA Division III Tournament. Willamette lost to University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in a high-quality opening round game, 1-0, at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.

Entering Saturday's game, Willamette was ranked #9 and Pacific Lutheran was ranked #7 in the West Region Poll for NCAA Division III as released by the United Soccer Coaches.

"This is a very, very tough road trip against a regionally ranked team today and a battle-tested team tomorrow (University of Puget Sound)," Willamette Head Coach Lloyd Fobi said. "Today's win was very important for the confidence of our young team. We still have a long way to go to be at our best."

The Lutes scored first on a shot by Joe Sammartino just 8:28 into the game. Sammatino was assisted on the play by Holton Halfaker.

Nicholas Ballenger (Jr., F, Salem, OR/West Salem HS) scored his team-leading fifth goal for the Bearcats at 17:48 to tie the score at 1-1. Ballenger stole the ball on a pass by the Lutes to a central defender just outside the penalty area. Ballenger timed his run perfectly to steal the ball and shoot it into the right corner of the goal in one motion. He leads the Bearcats with five goals on the season.

Shortly after the kickoff, Ballenger stole the ball again, this time 45-yards out near the left sideline. He went down the field and drove into the penalty area about eight yards from the end line. Ballenger then crossed the ball and it was knocked into the goal by a defender. The own goal gave Willamette a 2-1 lead.

The Bearcats remained in front at halftime, and continued to hold their one-gaoal advantage for most of the second half. Omar Dominguez Pascasio (So., M/D, Madras, OR/Madras HS) provided Willamette with an insurance goal at 77:55. Mack van der Velde (So., D, Voorhout, Neth./Summit HS, Bend, OR) was credited with an assist.

Willamette ended the game with a slim lead in overall shots at 9-8, but the Bearcats owned a 7-2 edge in shots on goal. Ballenger earned three shots -- two on goal -- while Josh Schneider (Fr., F, Washoughal, WA/Camas HS) of WU recorded two shots with one shot on target. Sammartino and Rainier Schlekewey each took one of PLU's shots on goal. The Bearcats claimed a 7-6 lead in corner kicks.

PLU goalkeeper RJ Noll registered four saves for the Lutes. Mason Kelliher (Jr., GK, Wellington, N.Z./Wellington College) made one save for Willamette.

The Bearcats will take on Puget Sound on Sunday, Sept. 15 in Tacoma, Washington. Game time is set for 2:30 p.m. (PDT).