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November 16. 2012 9:40PM

SNHU one win from Final Four

MANCHESTER - As demonstrated in its 2-0 victory over UMass Lowell in Friday night's NCAA Division II East Region final, the Southern New Hampshire soccer team's play puts it in elite company.

Sparked by Mohamed Toufik's two-goal outburst, and serenaded by 935 partisan fans - with the university's baseball and hockey teams alternating as maestros - the Penmen advanced to their third national quarterfinal game in four seasons in dominating fashion.

Ranked 10th nationally and No. 2 in the East Region, SNHU (19-3) will host an Elite Eight-round game Sunday at 1 p.m. at Larkin Field, its own pitch, taking on Atlantic Region and top-seeded Mercryhurst College. Mercyhurst beat Gannon University, 2-1, in a game preceding SNHU's.

The Penmen last faced Mercyhurst in 2002, claiming a 2-1 victory in a national semifinal game. A Sunday win over the Lakers earns SNHU a ticket to the Final Four.

"We watched (Mercyhurst) play this afternoon," said Marc Hubbard, the SNHU head coach. "They've got a few players that are quick to the ball. We'll need to recover and rejuvenate in a short period of time in order to be ready to play."

The Penmen held play for most of the game against the River Hawks (15-6-1), creating 15 shots. The shutout was SNHU's third of the year against Lowell.

Toufik scored his first goal about three minutes after entering play. The sophomore from Grande-Synthe, France, had his back to the net but was positioned in front of the goal when Jonathan Lupinielli served a cross toward him front the left wing.

Toufik leaped and twisted to get in position, somehow getting his right heel on the ball and sending it a short distance past the keeper at 34:33.

"I didn't know I really had a chance to score, I just got my leg up and had good results," said Toufik, netting his first multiple-goal game of the season and second of his Penmen career.

The score was ample reward for the diligent effort of the Penmen offense. Controlling possession for most of the first half, SNHU outshot Lowell, 10-1. The home team generated quick strikes as well as setting up crosses from either side of the pitch.

Ruben Resendes forced quick reactions from keeper Chris Maierle to save shots on goal. Jordan Branco's rifle shot forced another save. Yannick Kablala, a sophomore from Manchester Central, watched two shots veer just wide and another settle in the keeper's paws.

Once behind, the River Hawks offense began playing with more urgency, forcing SNHU keeper Dom DiMaggio to leap and tip an offering over the bar in the ninth minute of the second half. Seconds later, the junior goalkeeper forced himself between two opponents and punched the ball out of harm's way.

DiMaggio found himself on the wrong side of the net when the ball caromed to a wide-open weak side. Majid Saeed took one touch to create his chance and lofted a potential game-tying goal over the head of Lupinelli. He used too much leg and the shot drifted high with 25 minutes left to play.

"(Lowell) came out in the second half playing as if they had nothing to lose," said Hubbard. "They were really pressing us. Being able to weather the storm has been the hallmark of this defense the entire season."

Toufik netted an insurance goal with 19:21 remaining, racing from the weak side to one-time a rebound from Jordan Branco's blast. Maierle dove to deflect Branco's offering and was on the turf looking up as Toufik scored his second goal of the game.

"When we scored the second goal I knew we had this game won," said Toufik. "And now we have a chance to play at least one more game."

Mercyhurst 2, Gannon 1: The Lakers traveled from Erie, Pa., to upend their crosstown rivals and claim a seat at Sunday's Elite Eight table.

Mercyhurst tallied two goals and held off a late Gannon charge to claim its eighth straight victory en route to winning the Atlantic Region bracket for the first time, adding to the 17-5-1 squad's historic season that previously recorded first-ever conference regular season and tournament titles.

The Lakers defeated the Golden Knights in the regular season finale. At SNHU, they tallied goals in the 34th and 80th minute.

eemmerling@unionleader.com


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