Despite a valiant effort by the University of Redlands men's soccer team, the Bulldogs fell to Occidental College in a high-quality semifinal showdown of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) Postseason Tournament on Thursday night.
Oxy came out firing early on and constructed a dangerous opportunity in the ninth minute. After creating space, the Tigers attempted to connect to the far post once junior goalkeeper Noah Natividad (San Diego, CA) was forced off his line. With a seemingly empty-net staring him in the face, Liam Walsh unleashed back-to-back shots, which senior defender Nick DeQuiroz (San Jose, CA) managed to deny with his foot and then his chest.
Several possessions later, first-year defender Peyton Menti (Seattle, WA) leaped above his mark for a header inside the box, but it flew high. Redlands' pressure resumed with a solid look from junior forward Antony Chonga (San Diego, CA) that barely missed right in the 20th minute.
Deeper into the half, the Bulldogs were knocking on the door when senior midfielder Arman Mogharei (Hayward, CA) sent a solid cross into the box. Several Bulldogs moved into position, but it was senior forward Kayvon Parsa (West Hills, CA) who sprinted by his defender to get his head on the ball for a near miss.
On the other end of the field, Redlands needed one more defensive stand in the final minute of the half to send the teams into a halftime stalemate.
Early in the second stanza, the Maroon and Gray's defense picked up right where it left off, as Menti chased down an Occidental forward to tap the ball away on a breakaway that was headed towards the Redlands goal.
The Bulldogs began their second-half attack with a smooth drive down the left flank from Chonga that led to a forceful shot, but the Oxy goalkeeper made the stop. Two minutes later, Chonga earned another chance on a free kick, which also required a save. On the rebound, Mogharei fired a blast, but it was deflected out of play. Back-to-back corner kicks for the Bulldogs provided additional chances for the home team but neither came to fruition.
Action picked up again in the 64th minute when the Tigers switched the field to an open forward, who let loose on a strong shot on goal. Fortunately, Natividad cradled the ball to stop the attack.
Two minutes later, Oxy's Liam Walsh collected the ball on a broken defensive play and sprinted past the Bulldog backline. Natividad came charging out of the box to make a tackle but was called for the red card, which sent junior goalkeeper Emilio Raby-Newsom (Chicago, IL) into the game. Now playing a man down, the Bulldogs faced immediate pressure from the Tigers, who earned a free kick from the left wing. Ryan Wilson sent a header towards the goal from point-blank range, but Raby-Newsom was there to swallow it up.
The back-and-forth play continued, as Redlands created a quality look when first-year Steve Acuña (Pico Rivera, CA) took a deep free kick that required the Oxy goalkeeper to punch it up and over the net, which resulted in a corner kick. On the counterattack, the Tigers worked the ball downfield, as Ariel Rosso and Nicolas Eble developed a lethal combination for the go-ahead score in the 78th minute.
In the final 10 minutes, the Maroon and Gray upped the intensity and produced four shots but none connected. The best chance came in the 84th minute when Parsa received an entry pass in front of the goal from Mogharei. Despite a good look, his attempt flew high. Redlands continued to work, with sophomore midfielder Collin ChubbFertal (Eugene, OR) tenaciously possessing the ball and beating the defenders multiple times to send the ball inside. Chonga took the final shot for Redlands on a free kick, but it was blocked by the defense to end the game in a heartbreaking loss for the Bulldogs.
In the other semifinal, No. 4 Chapman University advanced on penalty kicks after 110 minutes of scoreless action against top-seeded Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges. Occidental will host Chapman in Saturday's final.
Redlands (13-5-0, 11-4-0 SCIAC) holds out hope for a possible at-large bid to the NCAA Championships, which will be announced on Monday morning.