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Men's Soccer: Wildcats march past Big Green into Sweet 16

New Hampshire Union Leader

November 19. 2017 7:14PM
UNH coach Marc Hubbard (COURTESY)

HANOVER — The University of New Hampshire men’s soccer team continued its bold and historic trek into uncharted territory on Sunday.

After capturing their first-ever NCAA tournament win last Thursday, the Wildcats found a way to add to their lore with a win in penalty kicks over Dartmouth College in the second round of the NCAA Division I tournament at Burnham Field. The back-and-forth affair with the Big Green went scoreless for 110 minutes, including two overtimes, before UNH prevailed 4-1 in the best-of-five penalty kick session.

“This is what we’ve been working for the last 2½ years,” said UNH coach Marc Hubbard, whose club will play its third-round NCAA game against the University of Indiana on Saturday at 7 p.m. in Bloomington, Ind. “Kudos to the guys because it’s hard to get into a rhythm year-in and year-out while bringing in so many players. We’re in a place now where we’ve established a good young core with guys willing to work hard and develop within the program. The future looks bright, but we obviously feel awesome about where we are at right now.”

Robin Schmidt clinched the victory with UNH’s fourth and final conversion in penalty kicks. The striker booted a shot into the middle of the crossbar that shot down across the goal line behind the dive of Dartmouth goalie Chris Palacios. Adding goals in the Wildcats’ perfect effort in penalty kicks were Bedford’s Josh Bauer, Amherst’s Willis Griffiith and Dante Lamb.

UNH keeper Andrew Pesci, of Windham, needed just one save during the shootout to seal the win. After being fooled by Wyatt Omberg on Dartmouth’s only converted penalty kick to lead off the session, Pesci redeemed himself by knocking away the next attempt by Henry Baldwin. Braden Salvati made life easy on Pesci and the Wildcats by sailing the Big Green’s third attempt, which opened the door for Schmidt to end the contest.

“I kind of just told myself that I needed to save one,” Pesci said. “I don’t think about it and just kind of react, trying to pick the best decision I can (to make the stop). Sometimes the kicker does a good job and sends me the other way, which they did the first time, but I came out on top the next time.”

The Wildcats made three saves in the game, but only one was credited to Pesci. The other stops were credited to Schmidt and Bauer, who had goal line clearances in the first and second half, respectively. Bauer’s stoning of Dawson McCartney in the 82nd minute was big. McCartney gathered the ball on a cross to the left post that took Pesci off his line, leaving Bauer to take on the attempt himself.

“I tried to stop it first (on the cross) and poke it out but it ended up getting past me,” Bauer said. “I didn’t have much of a choice besides falling back to the goal line and making myself as big as I could. Luckily he shot it low and it deflected off me and out to the corner.

“I didn’t feel like he had a great angle at it, so I was pretty confident I would at least be able to lunge for it.”

Dartmouth had another ripe opportunity in the opening minute of the second overtime when Pesci was again off his line and offered a wide-open net. UNH escaped when the Big Green sailed a far-side laser over the upper 90, but the officials also saved the Wildcats with what looked like an takedown in the box as the Big Green centered the ball atop the box in front of the open net.

“From my perspective it looked like a takedown for sure and we certainly said that,” Dartmouth coach Chad Riley said. “That’s a testament to our guys at the end, running and looking for those moments to finish. For whatever reason we couldn’t. We had a few looks like that one but credit to UNH for great blocks to save the game.

“You always credit the team that’s moving on. We knew they were a good team and have tons of respect for them. We wish them the best of luck.”