The men’s soccer team beat the Whitman Missionaries Saturday night in Walla Walla, 3-1, earning first place in the Northwest Conference for the second year in a row. The Pirates have now cemented their position in the NCAA tournament, clinching the ninth overall seed.
The Pirates began Saturday’s game with an aggressive attack, which led to a goal by senior forward Karl Muelheims just five and a half minutes into the match. The lead was doubled by sophomore midfielder Eric Espinoza’s score in the 29th minute of the game.
Freshman forward Alfredo Ornelas scored the final goal for Whitworth in the second half, assisted by sophomore midfielder Jonah Snyder off of a corner kick. That gave them a 3-0 edge with 10 minutes left to play.
The team shot an efficient 60 percent on goal, scoring on three of five attempts. That helped them claim the victory, despite being outshot 8-5 on goal by the Missionaries, and 29-12 shots overall.
Junior goalkeeper Timmy Costa anchored the defense by providing seven saves. He was the top goalkeeper in the Conference with a 0.88 save percentage.
Muelheims’ goal was his 20th of the season, which not only leads the Northwest Conference, but also shatters a Pirates’ team record that stood for almost 30 years (19 goals scored in a season by John Gould, 1988-89 season).
Senior forward Sam Engle, who assisted Muelheims on his goal, finished second on the team in scoring, with eight goals.
“This is the best season of soccer that I’ve seen us play during my four years here,” Engle said. “The coaches we have and the guys we have, we’ve been able to play the best soccer in conference this season. We beat every team we’ve played pretty much, and I’m lucky to be a part of it.”
The Pirates entered the final game tied with the Pacific Lutheran Lutes for conference champion, setting up a winner-take-conference scenario. The Pirates officially earned the title by half-time, as the Lutes lost to the University of Puget Sound Loggers.
Regardless of that game’s result, Pirates head coach Morgan Cathey wanted the team to remain focused on Whitman, he said.
“We told the guys that they had to keep each other accountable and not talk about the NCAA tournament at all because we wanted them to stay completely focused on Whitman,” Cathey said.
This is the team’s second consecutive tournament appearance. Results and schedules will be posted on www.whitworthpirates.com.
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