The stage was set for prime time Saturday night at Ramirez Field.
Fresno Pacific, fueled by the most lethal offense on the West Coast, going toe-to-toe against Dixie State – with the No. 2 defense in NCAA Division II – for the PacWest Conference title and a likely spot in the postseason.
Adding to the drama, it was the final home match for nine seniors and the chance for 25th-year coach Jaime Ramirez, for whom the field is named, to get career win No. 300.
None of that seemed to faze the Sunbirds, who in the first half bombarded the Red Storm with three goals in 13 minutes that held up for a 3-0 victory.
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Next up is the NCAA Tournament selection show, at 3 p.m. Monday, when Fresno Pacific (14-2-2, 11-1-1) will learn its postseason fate for certain. The Sunbirds are in their first year of full NCAA eligibility after a lengthy transition from its former membership in the NAIA.
The show will be live-streamed at ncaa.com.
300-149-31 Jaime Ramirez’s 25-year career coaching record, all at Fresno Pacific.
“I’m just really excited and delighted for my boys, delighted for our program and the history of the program,” said Ramirez, who was showered in Gatorade by his players. “I couldn’t have scripted it any better. I’m honored and I’m humbled and I’m very, very thankful for the opportunity I’ve had here at Fresno Pacific University.”
The off-field numbers are in Fresno Pacific’s favor for the NCAA bid. The Sunbirds not only entered ranked No. 15 in the country by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, they were No. 6 in the NCAA’s West Region.
Six schools from the West will get NCAA bids. The Red Storm (11-1-4, 9-0-4) were ranked seventh.
The Sunbirds didn’t take long to find their rhythm before an announced season-high crowd of 853, going in front in the 13th minute on a goal from midfielder Benjamin Cowdrill.
We don’t really think of it as offense or defense. It’s a whole team effort. That’s the attitude we’ve had all year.
Senior goalkeeper Andrew Luis
Cowdrill started the play, pushing the ball before passing right to Dylan Rusconi. Rusconi played it to Renato Bustamante, who delivered a cross through the defense to an open Cowdrill near the back post.
The junior from England pummeled it into the back of the net. Eight minutes later, Fresno Pacific doubled its lead via Rusconi’s diving header on a loose ball in the box.
Cowdrill made it 3-0 in the 26th, tapping in a rebound on another loose ball in the box.
Fresno Pacific’s aggression forced 13 corner kicks, eight in the first half. The Sunbirds had 21 shots, 12 of those on target. Dixie State mustered just three shots on goal, hindered by stout defensive play from the Sunbirds’ Victor Rodriguez and Martin Kams.
Goalkeeper Andrew Luis had three saves in his fourth shutout of the season.
Fresno Pacific’s three goals were the most allowed in a single game by Dixie State this season.
Luis credited the team’s focus at both ends.
“We don’t really think of it as offense or defense. It’s a whole team effort. That’s the attitude we’ve had all year,” Luis said. For it to come down to “the final game is incredible.”
“It’s awesome to get this for (coach Ramirez) – the championship and the 300.”
Luis was one of nine seniors honored before the match. The others were Bustamante, Kams, Alvaro Nogales, Dallas Whitlow, Emmanuel Ochoa, Eli Gallegos and Chris Rosas.
Women’s soccer: Fresno Pacific lost 2-1 in overtime in its season finale to finish sixth in the PacWest. The Sunbirds were 9-6-2 overall under first-year coach Rob Podeyn. Seniors Selena Braun, Amanda Hudec, Jenna Thomason, Alyssa Pazzi and Caressa Archie were honored.
Fresno Pacific 3, Dixie State 0
First half: 1, FP, Benjamin Cowdrill (Dylan Rusconi, Renato Bustamante) 13th minute. 2, FP, Rusconi (Cowdrill) 21st. 3, FP, Cowdrill (Alvaro Nogales) 26th.
Yellow cards: Sunbirds 3 (Nogales 46th, Dallas Whitlow 79th, Sergi Nus 87th). Red cards: Red Storm 1 (Alex Galvan 90th).
Shots on goal: Fresno Pacific 12, Dixie State 3. Saves: Fresno Pacific 3 (Andrew Luis), Dixie State 9 (Bradley Trella 7, Ryan Brubaker 1, Team 1).
Records: Fresno Pacific 14-2-2, 11-1-1. Dixie State 10-2-4, 8-1-4.