SNHU booters advance in NCAA tournament
MANCHESTER - With Sunday afternoon's 1-0 triumph, the Southern New Hampshire University men's soccer team executed a humongous triple play: beating Merrimack for the third time this season to secure a third-round berth in the NCAA Division II soccer tournament.
Captain Chris Tsonis, a senior from Dartmouth, Mass., netted the lone goal of the game on a penalty kick. It was his 15th tally of the season and second game winner of the season against the Warriors (15-4-2).
With the win, the second-seeded Penmen (18-3) will face fourth-seeded UMass-Lowell, a 1-0 victor over top-seeded LIU-Post in Lowell Sunday night, in the East Region championship at a site and date to be determined.
SNHU should be the likely host.
"It's no easy feat, beating a high-quality team three times in one season. And it's no fun when it happens to you. Franklin Pierce (University) did it to us last season," said Tsonis.
Sunday's game was a testy affair with rugged tackles and rough play thrown in alongside some talented execution of quality soccer. Officials issued six cards, whistled 28 fouls and had to separate several scrums of angry players. A Merrimack player had to be pulled away from an official at the conclusion of the game.
A lot is at stake in a single-elimination tourney and tempers were already short; the teams battled last Sunday in the Northeast-10 Conference championship game.
The Warriors played a man down for the final 27:09 of regulation when Franklin Lemus Pena, the Warriors' leading scorer and NE-10 Player of the Year, picked up a red card while arguing his issuance of a yellow card on a foul to Keegan Campbell.
The Penmen immediately realigned, working three forwards on the pitch, pushing forward at every opportunity. Jordan Branco had three shots turned away.
Then it was the Penmen's leading scorer's turn.
"I was teeing up a shot with my left foot and knew it was going in when I felt this huge guy landing on me from behind. I felt to the ground hoping the official saw it," said Tsonis, who was awarded a penalty kick at 76:18 after being clobbered in the box.
"I knew exactly where I wanted to put the PK," said Tsonis. "I worked to stay composed telling myself to relax, relax and take the shot when I'm ready."
The Penmen's offense carried play until armed with the lead. That's when SNHU, ranked 10th nationally, went into a prevent mode while trying to secure an 11th shutout victory. Down a man, the Warriors mounted two decent scoring bids. Keeper Dom DiMaggio saved one, and Sam Kelley, of Bedford, turned away another.
"They (Merrimack) are very strong on counter attacks. It was kind of nerve wracking, trying to prevent one little slip up that would allow them to tie the game," said Kelley, a senior back. Merrimack scored two of the 11 goals surrendered by SNHU this season."
The Penmen outshot Merrimack, 16-11. Most of the Warriors' shots happened after they fell behind.
"This team fancies itself with a possession-oriented style of play. They are quite talented moving the ball forward," said SNHU coach Marc Hubbard. Under his direction, the Penmen are 11-4-5 in postseason play during his five-year tenure.
Ruben Resendes' right foot ripped the Penmen's first scoring chance, but keeper Jose Silva dove right deflecting the shot with his fingertips in the seventh minute of play.
At the midway point of the first half, a Tsonis pass looked certain to send Branco on a breakaway bid, but Silva raced 40 yards away from the net to slide by Branco's feet and knock the pass away with his right elbow.
The Penmen kept creating chances, in the 35th minute Miguel Carneiro blasted a shot off Silva's hands, but defender Julio Leon cleared the rebound before Branco could reach the ball. The Penmen failed to score on two corner kick chances.
Merrimack came within an inch of scoring during a free kick chance in the final minute of the half, but midfielder Campbell cleared the ball while tiptoeing along the goal line.
Dowling 2, LIU Post 0: At Manchester, in the women's NCAA East Region second-round game, third-seeded Dowling (14-3-3) upset top-ranked LIU Post, in a battle between two New York colleges. The Golden Lions, who advanced by defeating No. 4 SNHU in a Friday evening first-round game decided by penalty kicks, tallied a goal in each half.
The Golden Lions will face St. Rose in Thursday's East Region final.