Headed to nationals
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For the first time since 2008, the Westmont men’s soccer team (10-4-3) qualified for the NAIA National Tournament. The Warriors earned an automatic bid after defeating Hope International, 2-1, in the Golden State Athletic Conference (GSAC) Tournament Championship game on Saturday.
The tournament began on Thursday with two semi-final matches. Hope International squared up against the Lions of Vanguard in the first match, beating the Lions 1-0.
The Warriors took the field after, matching against The Master’s for the third time in the past 26 days. Within the first nine minutes, senior Yazi Hernandez scored to give the Warriors an early lead. The Warriors headed into half-time up 2-0 after sophomore Francisco “Panchito” Castro ripped it into the upper right corner.
In the 80th minute, the Warriors scored their third and final goal when freshman Jose Vasquez hit a lefty shot past the Mustangs’ goalkeeper for the first goal of his Westmont career. Westmont defeated The Master’s 3-1, advancing to the championship game versus Hope International (12-6-2).
On Saturday, Westmont started the game slowly and Hope took the lead in the 19th minute when Jose Hernandez fired a shot that ricocheted off the right post into the left side of the goal after intercepting a pass from Westmont’s defense. With the energy and moral seemingly low, Westmont finished the half without scoring.
“We came in at halftime and the coaches said that it wasn't good enough,” said senior Blake Homan. “They were the better team and if we kept it like this we would walk away empty handed. We had split the game into two halves and they won the first one. So, it was our time to win the second one.”
Westmont came out in the second half and scored in the 69th minute when goalie Lalo Delgado launched the ball to the other side of the field, putting Jeremiah Anderson in perfect position to kick it past Hope’s keeper and tie the game 1-1. The energy in both the stands and field completely shifted at this moment - the Warriors were back in charge of the game.
Westmont’s next opportunity came in the 80th minute when Tim Heiduk was fouled in the box and was awarded a penalty kick.
“Before the game in our team talk, we watched a video about the history of our program with recorded messages from previous Westmont men’s soccer captains wishing us good luck,” said Heiduk about his mentality leading up to the spot kick. “Going up to take the penalty kick, I wanted to score for the alumni that have given us the opportunity to be Warriors. I wanted it for my teammates I have been battling alongside every day. I didn’t want to let them down.”
Heiduk fired the ball from the penalty spot, putting Westmont up by a final score of 2-1.
Hope put the pressure on in the last two minutes, but the Warriors were able to hold out for the victory.
“The theme was that this is our time and sometimes you just have to find a way,” said Homan. “Everything we've done this year had led to that moment and we weren't going to lose, not that day. That's exactly what we did. We found a way.”
Westmont has earned an automatic berth into the NAIA National Tournament, where it will travel to play against Marymount at El Camino College in the Opening Round on Sat. Nov. 18 at 7:30 p.m. The two teams tied 1-1 earlier this season.