The game had stood in Columbia College’s way for too long.
For the first time in John Klein’s four-year coaching tenure, the Cougars won in the NAIA Region V semifinal, defeating Baker 1-0 on Thursday at Owens Soccer Stadium.
The No. 16 Cougars will play in the championship against No. 5. Lindenwood at 7 p.m. Saturday in St. Charles. The winner will receive an automatic bid to the national tournament on Nov. 19-25 in Kansas City.
“The win is very big for this institution,” Klein said. “We’re playing for a first trip to the national tournament. It should have happened three years ago.”
In the Cougars’ semifinal losses, they couldn’t score the first goal; that was different Thursday.
Cougar defender Jared Cross scored in the 23rd minute Thursday when Juan Pagoada sent a high corner kick from the right side to the left of the goal box. Cross headed the ball past goalie Pat McNamara into the top right corner of the goal.
It was only the second goal of the season for Cross, but both of his scores have been important. Cross’s first goal was the winner in the American Midwest Conference championship on Oct. 17.
“We pushed Jared up because he’s just crazy,” Klein said. “Not all of our other guys are willing to sacrifice their bodies like Jared, so we gave him the go ahead to go up into the box on the corner kick.”
Cross also played a pivotal role in the Cougars’ defense.
“Its just a really physical game,” Cross said. “To sacrifice your body to make the slide tackle, it’s just something you’ve got to do. We played as a team tonight. and at the end of the game it was like ‘Ah, we broke the curse.’”
Goalkeeper Steve Williams made 15 saves to earn the shutout for the Cougars (15-5), stopping many high, difficult balls.
Williams, a first-year community college transfer, said he has been adapting to the higher level of competition.
“You come in the first year and you don’t understand the latitude of the competition here, and this is a brand new team for me, much better players,” Williams said. “It’s a lot of fun. I just work a lot on the simple things over and over again.”
Said Klein: “Going up and taking care of those high balls is his strength. He knows how to read the game. He was maybe player of the game for us.”
The Wildcats’ defense hindered the Cougars’ runs, many by Ben Boehner, Pagoada, and Juan Pablo Irrera, and the Cougars were caught in the offsides trap four times in the first half.
Although Irrera couldn’t make his normal long runs, he was a part of the short, give-and-go passing game that contributed to the Cougars’ win.
The Cougars gradually broke down the defensive wall and made 21 shots.