Messiah and Rochester Will Meet for Final Four Berth
Messiah College and the University of Rochester will play in the NCAA Fourth Round of the NCAA Men's Soccer Championships after posting one-goal victories on Saturday afternoon.
Messiah, the defending national champion, posted a 3-2 victory over SUNY Cortland in the first game of a regional doubleheader at the Brian F. Prince Athletic Complex. In the second game. Rochester earned a 1-0 victory in a match played at a far different pace than the Cortland-Messiah event.
The regional final, a.k.a. Elite 8, will start at 1 p.m. Sunday in Edwin Fauver Stadium, a part of the Prince Athletic Complex. Sunday's winner will qualify for the NCAA Division III Final Four in Greensboro, NC in two weeks.
This marks the second consecutive year that Rochester and Messiah play for the right to go to the Final Four. The Falcons defeated the Yellowjackets, 2-0, in last year's Elite 8 pairing held on Messiah's campus. This regional was supposed to be played at Messiah, but a late week snowstorm made the Falcons' homefield unplayable. The four-team event was moved to Rochester late Thursday evening.
Rochester 1, Eastern 0:
Josh Cooley scored his sixth goal of the season for Rochester (15-2-2) midway through the second half after an excellent passing combination. Rochester earned a free kick just over midfield along the left touchline. Milan Fatschel lofted a pass of more than 40 yards into the center of the penalty area. Aidan Miller pushed it ahead and Cooley lined it into the low left corner before Eastern goalkeeper Anthony Hitchcock could get to it.
The Yellowjackets had a few more offensive forays in the second half. Bryce Ikeda figured in two chances within a two-minute span. Twelve minutes after the restart, his throw-in from the right touchline went to the back post in a penalty box populated by home jerseys. It glanced off Cristian Baltier, resulting in a goal kick. Two minutes later, Ikeda was at it again. This time his corner kick from the left attacking corner was an inswinger looking for a white shirt. Hitchcock came off the line and grabbed the ball just before it got behind him where Miller was waiting to convert the service.
Hitchcock was forced into a tough save with less than 12 minutes to play. Rochester sent a three-man rush forward. The ball found its way to Mitch Volis cutting in sharply on the left sideline. His rising shot was parried well by Hitchcock – out to the right where the Eagles were able to clear and move forward.
Eastern played a high-pressure game at a quick pace. It bottled up Rochester for a good portion of the first half. Having to defend, defend, defend, UR wasn't able to create its opportunities along the flanks. Rochester close ranks in the middle to deny shooting space to Eastern. In the 20th minute, Eastern's Liam Harmon ran laterally from the left side to the right side and pushed the ball to his brother, Cade. He dribbled to the top of the area, looking for a seam and some shooting space. His shot was deflected over the crossbar for a corner kick which proved harmless.
As the clock ticked below six minutes to play in the first half, Eastern's pressure resulted in a cross by Dennis Cosgrove that was volleyed over the crossbar by Bryce Wahinya. On the resulting corner kick, the ball was played low into the center of the area. Jake Sankey tried to touch it quickly into net but UR goalkeeper Patrick Conway made the save six yards away from the net. It was his only save of the match.
Eastern's Zach Harley had second half opportunities both early and late. Two minutes in, he headed off a defender for a corner kick following a throw-in by Billy Walenda. In the latter stages of the match, Eastern pressed forward and Harley's shot from the center of the box was blocked by the Rochester defense.
Eastern finished its season at 18-3-2. The Eagles won the MAC Freedom Conference to earn the bid, their seventh in the tournament. They reached the third round this year with a shootout win vs. Mary Washington after a 1-1 tie and a 1-0 win at Franklin & Marshall.
Messiah 3, SUNY Cortland 2:
Nick West scored all three goals for Messiah, two in less than two minutes, as the defending national champions rallied for victory over the nation's sixth-ranked team.
This was the second meeting of the season between Cortland and Messiah. The first meeting – on August 31 – ended in a 2-2 deadlock, one of only two games Messiah has not won this season (19-0-2 with the Sweet 16 victory).
Cortland scored in the 31st minute and then with Messiah ahead in the 86th minute, pulled one goal back with 3:09 to play and nearly had a last minute equalizer but the Red Dragons couldn't convert on a corner kick.
West was a dynamic difference-maker. His three goals raised his season's total to 29. He entered the match ranked third in Division III in gamewinning goals (seven entering the Cortland game) and second in total goals. He was part of Messiah's three best chances in the first half.
Six minutes into the match, he fired from the upper left corner of the penalty area and his shot struck the right post before it was cleared. Midway through the period, he directed a corner kick to Brit Haseltine at the near right post. The shot was blocked by the defense. With 11 minutes left in the first half (and Cortland ahead, 1-0), West hit another corner kick, this one to Micah Fitz at the back post who headed it wide.
Cortland stood up against the Falcons, pushing forward rather than retreat and defend. That attack mode produced a 1-0 lead in the 31st minute. On a counter, the ball was pushed wide to Migell Ormsby on right wing. He carried it down the touchline for a bit, then centered it to Jake Keller who scored to the low left corner.
Ormsby almost did it again three minutes into the second half; another counterattack with him swinging the ball into the middle where Ivan Dam struck it wide.
Messiah stepped up its attacking pressure but couldn't find an equalizer in the first portion of the second half: West tried from 16 yards out (save), Fitz drove a high cross into the goalmouth with Cortland goalie Sean Kelly off his line (but it was headed wide by Brit Haseltine), David Alejos centered (Justin Brautigam volleyed past the left post), Christian Valen hit a half-volley over the crossbar as a loose ball came his way from the right side.
In the 70th minute, the Falcons got even and two minutes later, they took the lead. Jonathan Groothoff placed a cross into the center of the box from right wing with West running towards him. West flicked his head and sent the ball into the left side of the net to equalize. A Cortland foul two minutes later resulted in a 28-yard free kick that West curled into the low left corner from right wing.
A Cortland handball resulted in a penalty kick with 4:19 left. West took it and scored, his first PK this season. But a minute later, Cortland pulled one back. The Red Dragons pushed forward quickly and got behind the Messiah defense. Miguel Tunas centered a ball from right wing with Messiah keeper Connor Bell well off the line. The pass found Sam Fuller, wide open in the center of the pitch. He dribbled forward, then kicked the ball into the open goal, cutting the score to 3-2 with 3:09 left. Messiah was able to hold on despite a dangerous corner kick in the last 30 seconds.
Notes: Messiah is 19-0-2, Cortland finished 17-3-3. Messiah won a Pool A bid as the champion of the MAC Commonwealth Conference. This is Messiah's 29th year in the NCAA tournament and the 23rd time the Falcons reached the Sweet 16. Cortland earned an at-large bid to the NCAAs after finishing 15-1-2 in the regular season. The loss was to Brockport in the SUNYAC Championship Game. This is Cortland's 19th year in the tourney