Phoenix College tops Lewis & Clark, advances to semifinals

Phoenix College tops Lewis & Clark, advances to semifinals

Now that was more like it.

After struggling with the nerves of playing in the first NJCAA Women's Soccer National Championship tournament game in program history on Monday, the No. 1 seeded Phoenix College Bears defeated Lewis & Clark 2-0 Wednesday at Eastern Florida State College.

The win puts the Bears (23-0-1) into Friday's national semifinals.

"We were a lot different today, huh?" Phoenix College coach Chris Sagar said. "Like I said, that first game – no experience here – we just needed to get it out of our system.

"We survived on Monday, which is what good teams do. I told them the same thing (today that) I told them on Monday – go back to what got us here. And let's start showing a little bit of what got us here."

The result was a Bears team that was much more composed on the ball and took advantage of its opportunities.

Freshman Laura Figueroa delivered both goals for Phoenix College. The first game with 20 minutes left in the first half on a corner kick from Stephanie Estrada that got up in the wind and just off the hands of Lewis & Clark goalkeeper Katie Hudson.

"I thought the keeper was going to catch it," Figueroa said. "It just landed right in front of me and it was right on the line. I just tapped it in and it went off (Katie) Hudson."

Figueroa's second goal came with just over a minute remaining in the contest to put to rest any thoughts Lewis & Clark had of making a comeback.

The Trailblazers (18-3) put a lot of pressure on in the second half – including one shot that hit off the post – but could never get that elusive game-tying goal before Figueroa sealed it.

"The first half, I really thought they had most of the possession," Lewis & Clark coach Tim Rooney said. "The second half, I really thought we had most of the play. We had those chances, but it just wasn't meant to be.

"They're a good team and good teams, you can't let them have anything."

Sagar had nothing but praise for Lewis & Clark.

"They're legit," he said. "From their keeper to their center back to (Taylor Hanson) in the center mid and (Kassidy Louvall and Senate Letsie) they're a handful.

"The good thing is they're similar to one of the teams we play back home, Arizona Western, who we had to beat three times to get here."

As for Figueroa, who obviously came up big for the Bears on Wednesday, Sagar said it showed just a little taste of what his team is capable of.

"She's one of those kids that, when you look at her, she's easily underestimated," Sagar said. "But she is one of the top players in this tournament. She gives us that composure, that calmness on the ball."

What fans saw more of Wednesday, Sagar said, was the Bears work rate, their organization and their sense of family, hoping to give two players – one injured (Gabby Flores) and one who had to sit out a game after getting her eighth yellow card (Lesley Esparza) on Monday – a chance to play one more game.

The night before the Lewis & Clark game, Figueroa said the Bears got together for a talk at their team hotel.

"We were saying it was a big competition to get here, and now that we are here, we need to just finish it," Figueroa said. "A lot of people here have been doubting us … (saying) we won't get far.

"But it's a matter of who wants it more, and that was us today in the game. We were working hard. Coach was telling us to keep doing what we were doing and just work hard. That's how we got here."

And now, in their first trip to the national tournament, the Bears are on their way to the national semifinals.

"It means a lot," Figueroa said. "We're two steps closer to the championship game. Like I said, we're here to finish it off. Whatever comes next game, we're ready. Hopefully, we can win this."