Story by Southern Oregon University Sports Information Director Josh McDermott.
ASHLAND -- One of the themes that developed in Southern Oregon’s torrid run through the Cascade Conference was the unpredictability of who would come through on a given day. In Saturday’s history-making, 1-0 overtime victory over UC Merced in the NAIA National Championship Opening Round, not even the Raiders could have guessed who’d be responsible for their lone goal.
During a season in which 19 Raiders have tallied and 11 have deposited game-winners, it was an own goal in the 96th minute made SOU (17-2-3) one of the last 16 teams standing in the NAIA and sent Raider Stadium into a frenzy.
Midway through the first extra session, Gonzalo Garcia made a run up the left side and crossed into the box, where Zac Hansen got a head on his pass. It bounced to Renee Resendez, whose point-blank shot was tipped and sailed over the crossbar.
That set up an Esteban Castaneda corner. From the left side, his right-footed kick sailed just over the heads of two streaking Raiders and off the head of a Bobcat, going over the left shoulder of keeper David Hernandez and triggering the celebration with the clock frozen at 4:53.
“We had some big chances to take the lead and were fortunate to finish one of them in overtime,” said SOU head coach Davie Carmichael following the 50th victory of his collegiate head-coaching career. “As always, our players showed a ton of character. We are mentally tough and have an unlimited supply of belief.”
The No. 13-seeded Raiders’ unbeaten streak reached 20 games, the longest active in the NAIA, with their 15th shutout. They’ll head to the final site – OC Great Park Soccer Stadium in Irvine, Calif. – and play No. 4-seeded Rio Grande (Ohio) in the second round on Nov. 26. Rio Grande, the No. 1 team in the final NAIA Top 25 coaches’ poll, improved to 19-0 with a 4-0 Opening Round victory over Lawrence Tech (Mich.).
UC Merced, the California Pacific Conference regular-season champion, was eliminated in the Opening Round for the second year in a row and finished at 13-5-2.
The game was a rematch of a SOU’s 1-0 non-conference victory on Sept. 8 in Merced. In that one, the Raiders prevailed despite giving up a season-high 16 shots and six on goal.
The teams were evenly-matched again in the first half as they both got off four shots, but SOU went the duration of the match without allowing a shot on goal.
Out of halftime, the Raiders seized momentum. They compiled advantages of 14-1 in shots and 9-1 in corner kicks the rest of the way, and had their best chance when a Resendez bounced off the post in the 58th minute.
The final corner kick that Resendez created, however, proved to be terminal.
Merced entered the contest at No. 2 on the NAIA leaderboard in shots on goal per game (12.8). Its top scorer, Artemio Contreras, came in with 48 career goals but left with three fruitless shots.
“It was certainly a game of two halves,” Carmichael said. “UC Merced are a well-coached team and put us under a lot of pressure early on. We made some tactical and personnel changes at halftime and I thought we controlled the tempo from that point on.”
The Cascade Conference’s other representatives also fared well Saturday: Corban defeated Arizona Christian in overtime, 3-2, and Rocky Mountain (Mont.) stole a 3-2 win at Hastings (Neb.).