LA JOLLA, Calif. - Kramer Runager’s 63rd-minute goal was enough to get Chico State past Seattle Pacific University, 1-0, in the first round of the NCAA Division II Men’s Soccer Championship on Thursday afternoon at Triton Soccer Stadium. UC San Diego is playing host to the first and second rounds.
The victory snapped a two-game losing skid for Chico State, seeded third in the West, and improved its overall record to 14-4-2. The sixth-seeded Falcons (12-4-3) ended their season the same way as it began in Seattle back on Sept. 7, with a 1-0 defeat at the hands of the Wildcats.
The result now means a fourth meeting this year between California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) rivals, as 17th-ranked and second-seeded UCSD will take on Chico State in the second round in primetime this Saturday night, Nov. 16. Kickoff underneath the lights at Triton Soccer Stadium is set for 7 p.m.
The Tritons hold a 2-1 edge in the series. The sides split their two regular-season meetings, each winning 1-0 on the opponent’s field. UCSD then edged Chico State, again by just a single goal, 2-1, in overtime in the CCAA Championship semifinals in Turlock on Friday, Nov. 8.
On a beautiful mid-November afternoon in San Diego Thursday, the Wildcats tallied the all-important goal at 62:07 through some quality combination play. Octavio Guzman played a pass out toward the left corner, with Luis Martinez latching onto it and providing a perfect cross to the edge of the six-yard box. That’s where a third senior, Runager, rose and snapped his header down to the ground, the ball skipping into the far corner for his fourth goal of 2013. Martinez and Guzman were each credited with assists, their fifth and team-best seventh helpers, respectively.
Senior Chico State goalkeeper Sam Evans, a native of Snoqualmie, Wash., made five saves to notch his sixth clean sheet of 2013, breaking the program’s record for career shutouts, now with 23. Counterpart Cody Lang, in his NCAA postseason debut as a redshirt freshman, showed very few nerves in matching Evans’ save total and keeping his side in the game.
Indeed, it was Evans preserving the ‘Cats’ victory with a pair of big stops, the latter coming in the form of a tipped save off a Stephen MacDonald header with just 2:03 left in regulation. That set off a flurry at the death as SPU pushed for an equalizer. Successive corner kicks from Danny Olivas ultimately led to a right-sided cross by Anthony Mohammed and a whipped header by Taylor Backous that went narrowly high of the crossbar at 88:43.
Olivas had one final opportunity to send the match into overtime. SPU earned a free kick right outside the penalty area with the clock stopped at less than six ticks on the scoreboard. The sophomore midfielder shot directly on goal, but went high.
Chico State looked the better side throughout a well-played first half. A left-sided cross from Martinez in the 15th minute was headed just wide to the left by Guzman. Within two minutes, Runager’s right-footed blast off a Guzman feed was saved by Lang going down to his left.
SPU gained some momentum early in the second period. At 47:20, Olivas’ corner kick was met with a near-post header by sophomore defender Bryson Pavel, necessitating Evans’ first important save of the match. Moments later, a right-sided cross on the ground by Olivas found Sean Russell at the back post, but the junior forward’s attempt hit the side netting.
In the 59th minute, Matt Hurlow’s shot was saved by Lang. Martinez provided the service from the ensuing corner kick, and senior midfielder Tyson Crim’s effort sailed barely over the crossbar. Chico State’s decider would come shortly thereafter.
Shots finished even at 15 apiece on the afternoon, with Runager accounting for a game-high four.