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November 17. 2012 11:47PM

Final Four at stake for SNHU men's soccer

MANCHESTER - The stakes are high whenever the Southern New Hampshire University and Mercyhurst College men's soccer teams cross paths.

The winner of today's 1 p.m. meeting, a national NCAA tournament quarterfinal at Larkin Field on the SNHU campus, advances to the semifinal round Nov. 29 at Evans, Ga.

The last time these two met was in the 2002 Division II Final Four. The Penmen were 2-1 victors.

Memories of that conquest won't do much good today. But, both teams got a chance to scout one another in Friday night's East and Atlantic Region final round games, played on the Penmen's pitch.

Ranked 10th nationally and second in the East, SNHU (19-3) shut out UMass-Lowell, 2-0, for the third time this season in the East Region finale, while the Lakers (16-5-1), ranked 14th in the country and No. 1 along the Atlantic, dispatched its Erie, Pa., neighbor, Gannon University, 2-1.

"They (Mercyhurst) have a few players that are quick to the ball that we'll have to watch out for," said Marc Hubbard, who has coached SNHU to the national quarterfinal round three of the past four seasons. "We will really be trying to recover physically, so we're not running on fumes."

Speedy senior Alex Manea leads the Lakers, scoring 15 goals and six assists. Sophomore Fernando Martinez assisted on both Friday night goals, improving his season tally to seven goals and a team-leading nine assists. Senior Austin Solomon (seven goals,four assists) struck the game winner against Gannon, the club's eighth straight victory.

The Penmen are 11-1 at home this season and 16-1 when netting the first tally of the game. Overall, they have outscored the opposition 54-11.

That's precisely what transpired in the East Region Final. Sparked by Mohamed Toufik's two-goal outburst, and serenaded by 935 partisian fans - with the university's baseball and hockey teams alternating as maestros - the Penmen controlled possession for most of the game, generating quick strikes or patiently passing to build opportunity.

Toufif, a sophomore from Grande-Synthe, France, leaped and twisted with his back to the ball and used his right heel to nudge in the first goal in the 24th minute of play. He netted an insurance marker with 19:21 left to play on a rebound of Jordan Branco's blast.

Playing protectively in front of junior keeper Dom Dimaggio, the Penmen's defense allowed Lowell just six shots while notching their 12th shutout of the season and seventh straight win.

Offensively, senior Chris Tsonis leads the Penmen with 15 goals and four assists while Toufik has tallied nine and Branco has scored six times.

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Eric Emmerling may be reached at eemmerling@unionleader.com.

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