FRESNO, Calif. --- Three times during the past three weeks, the Biola University men's soccer team faced elimination from post-season competition only to advance by virtue of a successful performance in a penalty-kick shootout. The Eagles kept their shootout streak alive on Tuesday night at Ramirez Field in Fresno.
This time, it took seven rounds of penalty kicks to decide the hotly-contested match against Hastings College of Nebraska, but when Jared Fenlason's low shot to the right of Bronco goalie Cody Poteat found the back of the net, the Eagles had advanced to the quarterfinals of the NAIA Championships for the first time in school history.
Biola's quarterfinal opponent will be No. 3-seeded Rio Grande of Ohio, a 2-1 winner over Lindenwood (MO). The two teams square off on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m.
Tuesday night's shootout was necessary after the Eagles and Broncos traded second half goals and finished 110 minutes of regulation and overtime in a 1-1 tie. Hastings scored first at the 55-minute mark when a deflected Bronco shot bounced out to midfielder Ryan Robinson, who rocketed a shot to the top left corner for his 12th goal of the season.
The 1-0 Hastings lead lasted only 11 minutes, however, when Biola capitalized on a hand-ball in the penalty box off of a long serve from midfield. Sophomore forward Marco Ruvalcaba calmly sent a shot to the right corner of the net to tie the score at 1-1 with 24 minutes remaining in the second half.
While neither team had a significant scoring opportunity during the remainder of the second half or overtime, that was not the case in the first half. The Eagles had several chances, one after a pinpoint pass from the right side by forward Jake Ravenscraft that scooted by the Bronco goalie. The ball barreled across the goal, where a sliding Chongo Kennedy arrived a fraction of a second too late to touch it into the open net. Kennedy also had a point-blank shot fly just wide right during the first half.
"Our lack of execution in front of the goal was frustrating," said Biola Head Coach Bryan Kuderman. "We wanted four goals tonight, but we couldn't convert. We had 19 shots (compared to 18 for Hastings), but only four were on goal. Still, this is a great win for our team, to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time in school history."
With the Eagles struggling to find the net, they were fortunate that two-time NAIA Defensive Player of the Week Aaron Fenlason was again sterling in the goal. Fenlason made his presence known early in the first half. Eight minutes into the game, the Bronco's Robinson broke through the defense inside the box, but Fenlason reacted swiftly to turn away the shot.
"It was key for me to step early and stop that shot," said Fenlason, who had five saves on the night. "I had to show the team I had their back -- that they could be confident in me."
Fenlason's standout performance in the shootout -- he blocked the third and sixth Bronco attempts -- was not unexpected.
"I have never seen a shootout involving Aaron where he didn’t have at least one block," said Kuderman. "I knew he was going to make those saves."
It was a good thing he did, because the Eagles got off to a poor start in the shootout. After a successful opening shot by Bronco standout forward AJ Dingledine, Ruvalcaba's attempt was blocked by Poteat. Hastings jumped to a 2-0 lead after its next shot, but Cody Shelton closed the gap with a low shot to the middle. A diving block by Fenlason kept the score at 2-1, but Shalom Bako's left-footer was wide left.
With a chance to go up by two PK's, the Bronco's Yannic Thiel saw his shot hit the left post, and this time the Eagles pulled even, 2-2, when Abraham Gomez's bullet to the right corner was good. The pressure mounted over the next two rounds as Hastings hit both shots, but with the game on the line, both Chongo and Jake Ravenscraft answered with goals of their own.
With the shootout tied at 4-4, Fenlason dove left and stopped a shot off the foot of Justin Burns, giving the Eagles their first opportunity to win the shootout, and the game. The final heroics were left to his brother, Jared, whose game-winner pushed the Eagles into the quarterfinals.
Jared Fenlason, a junior defender from Rancho Bernardo, California, has faced this situation before, in high school, but "none were as big as this one," he said. "Once Aaron blocked that shot, I knew it was over. I had the confidence I could do it,"
Fenlason had a shot location in mind as he approached the ball, but "I changed my mind when I saw the goalie move," he said. "He was diving [the wrong direction] before I even finished my shot."
The Eagles, playing in their first NAIA Soccer Championship since 1987, are now 13-4-4 on the season, as the game is recorded as a tie. Hastings, the Great Plains Athletic Conference Champions, finishes at 16-4-3.
Biola joins The Masters College as two GSAC teams in the quarterfinals. The Mustangs, who edged Indiana Tech on Monday, 1-0, will face Notre Dame of Ohio, a 3-1 victor over Benedictine of Kansas. Biola’s match against Rio Grande follows at 4:30 p.m.
Written by Jeff Hoffman, Sports Information Director. For more information, contact Jenna Bartlo, Media Relations Coordinator. Jenna can be reached at (562) 777-4061 or through email at email@example.com.