By Lee Horton
Peninsula Daily News
Want more top stories? Sign up here for daily or weekly newsletters with our top news.
For the first time in conference history, the same school has claimed back-to-back men's and women's soccer championships.
The Pirate women defeated Edmonds 2-1 thanks to a second-half burst of two goals in less than two minutes.
In the men's championship match, Peninsula needed only one goal to beat Clark, and it wasn't a huge surprise who scored it. Or when.
The Pirates and Penguins battled Sunday evening for nearly 90 minutes without either team gaining an advantage on the scoreboard at Starfire Sports Complex.
Clutch goal . . . again
With three minutes left, Peninsula's Alex Martinez sent a low kick toward the right side of the net. Clark goalkeeper Johnathan Morales managed to get a hand on the ball, but couldn't deflect it enough to keep it from bouncing into the goal.
Martinez's goal was his 28th of the season, best in the NWAACC, and the 49th of his career at Peninsula College, which tied him with Miguel Gonzalez for the all-time school record.
It was the sophomore forward's second title-clinching goal. Martinez also scored in the 87th minute of last year's 1-0 win over Walla Walla in the NWAACC championship match.
“Alex just has that knack,” Peninsula coach Andrew Chapman said.
“One of the things that he's done is he just fights. He refuses to give up.”
After the game, Martinez was named NWAACC tournament MVP for the second straight year.
The Pirates have been in a similar situation before, defending champs with a near flawless record.
In 2011, they lost 1-0 to eventual champion Chemeketa in the NWAACC semifinal.
“Clark played a great physical game. They came out to win and that pushed us to fight more,” Chapman said.
“We didn't play a very inspired first half. But our guys knew the could do better and went out and proved it.
“The first part of game, we were just sitting in, playing more timid. In the second half, ratcheted it up.
“We told our guys at halftime, 'We can do better, go out and do better.'”
And the Pirates did.
The offense attacked more aggressively and put the Penguins defense on its heels.
It finally paid off when Martinez's kick skipped into the net.
“We knew we're going to score, it was just a matter of time,” Chapman said.
That goal was all the offense that Peninsula needed.
Throughout the rest of the match, though, the defense needed to keep Clark, the second-best scoring team in the conference behind Peninsula, from scoring.
Led by captains Mark Cottrell and goalkeeper Angel Guerra, the Pirates did just that.
Guerra had nine saves, including one right before the final whistle, to record his 12th shutout of the season. That's a school single-season record, moving him past Guilherme Avelar and Jared Wilson.
“Angel did well, came up big,” Chapman said.
“What we ask our goalkeepers to do, we tell them you're going to need to make five or six saves each game for us. And he came up big for us.”
Peninsula, ranked first in the NWAACC and seventh in the nation by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, finishes the season 21-0-2. No other men's NWAACC team has finished with that many wins and no losses.
The championship was Peninsula's third in four seasons.
“This time was a lot more relief,” Chapman said of winning title number three.
“We were undefeated and we were defending champs. There's a lot of excitement, but there was mostly relief.”
Women's Title Game
Peninsula 2, Edmonds 1
TUKWILA — Earlier Sunday, the Pirate women found themselves 20 minutes from failing to repeat as NWAACC champions.
Two minutes later, Peninsula was 18 minutes from defending their title.
Port Townsend graduate Irina Lyons scored on a free kick for the second consecutive day to give Edmonds a 1-0 lead in the 40th minute.
The Tritons continued to stifle the Pirates' offense, which was without the NWAACC's assist leader and fifth-best goal scorer Bronte Fitzsimmons, who had to miss the game due to a red card she received during Peninsula's semifinal win over Walla Walla.
While the men were saved by one of the school's all-time best scorers, the women's winning burst was started by someone who entered the weekend without a goal this season.
Dominique Niedziela scored in the 70th minute off an assist from Bri Afoa to level the game at 1-1.
Peninsula coach Kanyon Anderson said the goal came on a slow-developing play that seemed destined to lead to a scoring opportunity.
“A lot of times, that pressure builds on a player,” Anderson said.
“But Dom, that completely washed over her. She didn't just kick it hard; she got her eyes on it, and [kind of] passed it into the goal.
“That kind of composure, when you see someone score a goal like that, you think they've scored a lot of goals.”
Niedziela also scored the Pirates' first goal in Saturday's semifinal. Those two crucial goals earned her tournament MVP honors.
A minute later, freshman Larkyn Nelson scored the game-winner. The assist was originally credited to Annie Armstrong, who played a terrific tournament herself, but after watching the film, Peninsula coach Kanyon Anderson said that the setup actually came from Niedziela.
It was her second assist of the season.
Last year, Niedziela had one goal and one assist.
New role for Niedziela
As a defensive center back, Niedziela was stuck behind Shelbi Vienna-Hallam and Misty Kaiwi on the depth chart. (“Dom is awesome there, too, but we went with those two as starters,” Anderson said.)
However, an ankle injury to defensive central midfielder Brittney Yoshimura provided Niedziela with playing time at that position.
“Her role was to go in win headers and be physical, to go in a win balls for us,” Anderson said.
“She just worked hard, she put herself in positions in front of the goal. Both were really calm finishes; she put herself in a good spot near the back post.”
Niedziela's goal on Sunday equalized a match and essentially wiped away a first half that was unsatisfactory to Anderson.
“We talked at halftime about how poorly we played,” he said.
“I told them that it was as if we were experimenting with how badly we'd have to play to lose this game. [I said,] 'So there you go, you know.'”
The Pirates were in unfamiliar territory, having only trailed a few times for a few minutes this season.
“Had we played very well and trailed by a goal, or Edmonds had dominated us, we might be worried,” Anderson said.
“In some ways, we were lucky to be down only one goal.
“We were definitely worried, but we weren't in panic mode.”
Anderson said the feeling on the sideline was that one goal would ultimately lead to another.
“If we get one, you know we're going to get a second one,” he said.
“We just knew we would. And when we get one, the momentum will shift.”
Sure enough, in the 71st minute, a minute after Niedziela's equalizer, Nelson put Peninsula ahead 2-1.
Nelson had previously saved the Pirates earlier in the season with a goal in the 90th minute of a 1-0 win over Bellevue last month.
“Larkyn is an awesome player. She is very confident in front of the goal,” Anderson said of the freshman.
Anderson attributed his team's slow start to Edmonds and what he called an “emotional hangover” from Peninsula's semifinal win over Walla Walla.
“Edmonds is a good team and they win a lot of 50/50 balls. They did a really good job disrupting what we wanted to do,” Anderson said.
And against Walla Walla, the Pirates not only beat the best offensive and defensive team, statistically speaking, in the NWAACC, but they did so facing a mountain of adversity.
A few minutes into the second half, with Peninsula holding a commanding 2-0 lead, Fitzsimmons received red card. Not only would Peninsula be without one of its best players for the remainder of that match, but she would have to miss Sunday's championship game.
“It was worst-case scenario for us,” Anderson said.
“We haven't played without her all year. She does all of our corner kicks, and a lot of our set pieces. To lose all that in a split second was a huge blow to us.
“We had to figure out how to play without Bronte. She is arguably the most dynamic player in the league. You don't replace Bronte, you try something different.”
That “different” tactic involved the trio Alexandra Rojas-Ayala, Brenda Torres and Briana Estrellado, who Anderson said played a key role on both goals.
And Peninsula still had Afoa, the leading scorer in school history. She didn't score herself during the weekend, but she assisted two goals and what Anderson called a “hockey assist” on another.
“Bri was in my mind very much an unsung player for us,” Anderson said.
“As incredible as she is statistically, what makes her impressive in my mind is the dirty work she does.”
The Pirates are two-time defending champions, and the women's program has made three title game appearances in only four years of existence.
“I really am enjoying this one a lot more,” Anderson said of his team's second title.
“The first one . . . I didn't know what to expect. This time it feels a lot more comfortable. We had a goal from the beginning and we had an idea what it would take.
“This team was special, we knew it was. I told the girls afterwards, and I didn't say this to them during the season, this team was so talented, that it would have been a shame if we didn't win the championship.”
Sports Editor Lee Horton can be reached at 360-417-3525 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.