Originally published Wednesday, September 18, 2019 at 11:31p.m.

PRESCOTT — They say closing out a game is one of the hardest things to do in sports. Embry-Riddle men’s soccer got to experience that first hand when they saw their three-goal lead quickly evaporate in the final stretch of their 3-2 home win over Arizona Christian Wednesday night.

This nonconference match-up between the Eagles and the Firestorm pitted two sides that sit just outside the season’s first Coaches’ Top 25 Poll. With conference play on the horizon, the Eagles aimed to pick up steam with a solid win over ACU, which is exactly what they did … barely.

“I thought our performance was excellent. I thought we dominated the game for 80, 85 minutes,” ERAU head coach Dan Balaguero said. “However, it’s always going to be a problem late in the game when they start committing guys forward and they kind of got that back at the wrong time and then the last 10 minutes got kind of crazy.”

Balaguero certainly told no lies as the Firestorm played right into the Eagles’ hands for practically the entire match. ERAU’s backline Simon Jensen, Sergio Monteiro, Jarred Petersen and Marc Birkvald consistently stymied ACU’s offense throughout the first half.

The Eagles opened the scorebooks in the 22nd minute when junior midfielder Jacob Baker found senior forward Mason Laaksonen, who had enough space to maneuver around his defender and slide a shot past the keeper. ERAU continued to control the tempo and in the 33rd minute, a corner kick from Jensen connected with Ethan Carlson, who flew to the front post for a leaping header.

With a commanding 2-0 going into the half, the Eagles appeared well on their way to their fourth win on the season. It continued to appear that way in the second half as Baker tore up the middle of the field and blasted a shot that was blocked by the keeper. However, the rebound fell right into the lap of junior midfielder Stefano Recinos, who calmly buried the shot to make it a 3-0 game.

Before ACU’s late rally, the closest they ever came to scoring was when freshman midfielder Carlos Valenzuela missed a point-blank header that glanced off the crossbar. Despite missing ACU’s biggest chance up until that point, Valenzuela drew a foul inside the box in the 80th minute, which was enough to merit a penalty call by the official. Jesus Valenzuela went on to score the ensuing penalty kick, lighting a spark among the ACU team.

All of a sudden, the Eagles looked shaky as ACU desperately tried to make a comeback with 10 minutes left in the game. Unfortunately for the Eagles, ACU made it a 3-2 game after devising a counterattack, which was executed to perfection by Jesus Valenzuela for his second goal of the night.

However, that would be the end of ACU’s comeback bid as Embry-Riddle freshman goalkeeper Michal Serdynski managed to make an awe-inspiring save during the final minute following a frantic scramble in the box. This sealed the deal for the Eagles, who were just relieved to get the win in a game that carried its fair share of Top 25 poll implications.

UP NEXT

ERAU (4-1-1) will embark on a three-game road swing that kicks off with a nonconference game against Ottawa on Friday, Sept. 20. The team will then commence conference play against Simpson on Friday, Sept. 20.

Aaron Valdez is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier of Prescott News Network. Follow him on Twitter at @Valaaron_94. Email avaldez@prescottaz.com or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2031.

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Embry-Riddle sophomore MF Pedro Mena dribbles down the field during the team's 3-2 win over Arizona Christian on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, at Embry-Riddle. (Aaron Valdez/Courier)

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Embry-Riddle freshman MF Lucas Garcia (7) looks for an open teammate during the team's 3-2 win over Arizona Christian on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, at Embry-Riddle. (Aaron Valdez/Courier)

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ERAU junior D Simon Jensen works the ball out from the backline during the team's 3-2 win over Arizona Christian on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, at Embry-Riddle. (Aaron Valdez/Courier)

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ERAU senior D Marc Birkvald situates his teammates to defend a goal kick during the team's 3-2 win over Arizona Christian on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, at Embry-Riddle. (Aaron Valdez/Courier)

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ERAU sophomore MF Pedro Mena plays defense on ACU's Jesus Valenzuela during the team's 3-2 win over Arizona Christian on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, at Embry-Riddle. (Aaron Valdez/Courier)

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ERAU men's soccer huddles up before the start of the second half during the team's 3-2 win over Arizona Christian on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, at Embry-Riddle. (Aaron Valdez/Courier)