Down to their last breath, Westmont Men’s Soccer (8-4-2, 3-4-1 GSAC) saved their season in the 90th minute in Santa Barbara on Thursday. In a fight for the sixth and final spot in the GSAC Tournament, storybook heroics led to a 1-0 win over William Jessup (4-9-3, 1-6-1).
“It was a special moment,” said Westmont head coach Dave Wolf. “Honestly, it’s been a really special week. In light of all the group has been through, they came out to training on Tuesday with a strong mentality and a lot of intensity.
“On Wednesday, I told the team, ‘you look like you still have a lot in the tank’. They have every reason to have nothing left, but they put in a great week of work. You don’t always get what you work for or what you deserve in this game, but today, the team did.”
During an evenly-matched first half of action, the two sides combined for five shots on goal, but nothing more than that. Westmont challenged Jessup keeper Gerardo Perez Plata on three occasions, but the goalie was able to reject attempts by Aldo Becerril, Connor Lynch, and Michael Stull.
On Westmont’s side of the pitch, keeper Abraham Arteaga had a pair of shots test his instincts as well, but on both occasions Arteaga was able to make a diving stop.
Overall, the home-Warriors outshot Jessup 10-6 in the first half, but the game still remained knotted 0-0 going into the final-45.
During the first-10 minutes of the second half Westmont made Perez Plata remain on his toes, as the club put four shots on the keeper immediately.
Still, the keeper rejected Lynch three times before snaring another shot from Matthew Morgan, keeping the match tied at zero.
Then, from the 75th to the 89th minute, Jessup sent in six shots on frame at Arteaga. Luckily for Westmont, it was Arteaga’s turn to be the hero. With every sharp liner sent in, a calm and collected Arteaga trapped each ball, allowing the home-Warriors to keep hope alive.
“Abraham did a terrific job today,” pointed out Wolf. “One of our goals today was to get back in the win column at home, but also to get back to putting up clean-sheets. Obviously, Abraham had a lot to do with keeping the shutout. I’m happy for him, and the three guys who played in front of him.”
Right around the time shots began bombarding Arteaga, a game between Menlo and The Master’s went final in Santa Clarita. That game ended in a 0-0 tie, giving The Master’s, the team ahead of Westmont in the standings, only one point.
At that point in time, TMU possessed 10 points in the standings, compared to Westmont’s seven. Thanks to a 5-1 win over The Master’s on October 8, Westmont would own the tiebreaker over TMU in a scenario where both teams ended with the same number of points.
Thanks to the final minute of action on Thursday, that scenario became relevant.
In the 89th minute, Arteaga snagged Jessup’s final shot of the match, giving the junior keeper seven saves on the day. Following the save, Westmont sprinted up-field in hopes of catching lightning in a bottle.
The attack began when Stull received the ball 20-yards from Jessup’s goal line off the counter. Then, the sophomore went to work, dribbling the ball five yards in the box as four Jessup defenders began to close in on him.
Stull did not panic, nor did he let go of the ball quickly. Instead, the striker kept the ball at his feet, and turned his back towards the goal to catch a glimpse of his oncoming teammates. Finally, when the defenders began to circle Stull, an open Becerril darted from the top of the 18 to the center of the six.
As Becerril made his run, Stull somehow snuck a pass by a trio of defenders, finding Becerril for the day’s defining moment. On his first touch, Becerril cut around the final defender, with his second touch, he dribbled left of an oncoming Peraza Plata, and with his third touch, Becerril saved the season by scoring the only goal of the day.
Fifty-eight seconds after Becerril’s goal, the Warriors had a 1-0 win, and 10 points in the GSAC standings.
“Aldo has worked very hard this year, without a lot to show for it,” reflected Wolf. “From my point of view, Michael did a lot of work to create that chance, and I want that to be part of the narrative. For Aldo, he had to do a lot there, too, and a lot of it had to do with just remaining calm. To me, the most impressive thing was the composure he showed in the moment.”
On Saturday, Westmont will host the Menlo Oaks on Senior Day, which will also be Dave Wolf’s final game on Thorrington Field. Kick-off is scheduled for 12:30 p.m., and the stakes are simple. With a win, Westmont would advance to the GSAC Tournament.
“This is what we wanted,” nodded Wolf. “We knew in order to put ourselves in that situation, we had to get the job done today. As the clock ticked away, it didn’t look real likely, but this team showed that they possess a quality worthy of a postseason experience.
“I’m hopeful that we can take the final step.”
Jacob Norling is the sports information assistant at Westmont College.