Pacific Lutheran retained its one-game lead in the Northwest Conference men's soccer standings on Sunday, rallying from a deficit to take a 2-1 win over the visiting Whitman Missionaries.
The Lutes, ranked 19th in the Division III national poll, won for the seventh straight time to improve their overall record to 11-2 and their conference mark to 8-1. They hold a one-game lead over Whitworth, which won 3-0 at Puget Sound on Sunday afternoon.
The Missionaries entered today's match with a 5-3 conference mark and with a hope of staying in the conference title chase. They came out strong, putting PLU under heavy pressure that was rewarded 14:32 into the match when Leland Matthaeus ran onto Jed Jacobson's long pass behind the PLU defense, fought off a challenge, and then finished to the lower left corner of the goal. The goal was the third of the season for the Whitman sophomore forward.
The hosts got back into the match, returning the pressure on the Whitman defense, and they came close a couple of times before finally knotting the score at 43:37 on frosh defender Kevin Wien's header from Surafel Wodajo's corner kick. For Wien, it was his second goal of the season, both coming on corners.
The halftime stats showed a close match with the Lutes holding a 5-4 advantage in shots and both teams with on corner kick. In the second half, however, PLU gained the majority of the possession and put pressure on Whitman goalkeeper Michael Bathurst and his defense.
Pacific Lutheran almost took the lead 53 minutes into the match, but sophomore midfielder Giancarlo Santoro's shot hit the top of the crossbar and bounced over. PLU was finally rewarded at 68:00 when Santoro scored the game-winning goal. Spencer Augustin started the play on the right wing, turning the corner and passing to Wodajo, whose shot was turned away on a diving save by Bathurst. Santoro, following up on the back side, easily slotted home for his first tally of the season.
PLU had one more great chance about 72 minutes in when Chad Kearns flicked Wodajo's corner past Bathurst, only to see Whitman midfielder Junpei Tsuji clear the ball off the line.
Whitman refused to go down quietly and had several decent looks in the waning minutes. Matthaeus shot high over the bar from a tough angle at about 12 yards, and Cooper Schumacher had a couple of headers go wide of the right post.
With two assists in the match, Wodajo now has 13 this season, tying him with Jay Pettit (2003) for the PLU men's soccer single-season record. Wodajo already surpassed Pettit for the career assists record earlier this season.
PLU ended up with a 17-10 advantage in shots, though both teams had five on goal. Bathurst finished with two saves, while PLU keeper Joe Rayburn was called on to make four saves. The Lutes ended up with a 4-3 margin in corner kicks.
The Lutes play their next four conference games in the road, stating next Saturday at Willamette. The Bearcats handed PLU its only conference loss of the season back on Sept. 18. That was also the last time that the Lutes lost a match.
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