SALEM, Va. - The Tufts University men's soccer team will play in the 2016 NCAA Division III Championship Game on Saturday after earning a 2-1 win in the semi-finals over University of St. Thomas (Minn.) on Friday at Roanoke College's Kerr Stadium.
The Jumbos (14-5-2), who will be playing for their second national championship in three years, will face either Brandeis Univeristy or Calvin College in the NCAA final on Saturday at 1:30 pm. Those two teams are meeting in Friday's other men's semi-final at the site.
Tufts received goals from junior Stephen McMillian in the 39th minute and senior co-captain Zach Halliday in the 61st minute to build a 2-0 lead. Both goals were the first of the season by each Jumbo. St. Thomas (20-2-3) cut the margin to 2-1 on a goal by Johnny Mulvahill in the 72nd minute, but the Jumbos held off the Tommies to advance.
The wind and sun were factors in the game as both teams had to contend with those elemenets defensively. In the early-going, Jumbo sophomore Sterling Weatherbie twice put long free kicks on the St. Thomas goal that created scoring opportunities. The first resulted in a corner kick. The second was batted away by Tommie keeper Aidan Hogan, but right to Jumbo Kevin Lawson in front who retaliated with a blast back that was saved again by Hogan.
|Kevin Halliday works to set up the Jumbos' second goal|
In betwen those two Tufts chances, a lovely St. Thomas through ball to Christian Elliehausen was challenged strongly by Jumbo keeper Scott Greenwood and an excellent early opportunity for the Tommies was squashed.
As play went on with solid chances from both sides, a free ball bounced out to McMillian in the center of the field about 45 yards out. He drilled a left-footed shot that snuck under the crossbar and glanced off Hogan's fingers for the game's first goal with 6:13 on the clock. The tally was the first of McMillian's three-year collegiate career.
St. Thomas responded with its best pressure of the half. Greenwood made all three of his first-half saves in the final five minutes on attempts by Kevin Wypyszynski, Shae Bottum and Evan Potter. Tufts took its 1-0 lead into halftime.
The Tommies' advantage continued into the second half. A shot by Elliehausen hit the right post in the opening two minutes and Greenwood stopped another shot by St. Thomas' Walter Alvarado during sustained pressure. The Tommies would earn three corner kicks in the opening segment of the period as well, but Tufts kept them at bay.
After St. Thomas' offensive was denied, Tufts added what seemed like a back-breaking goal at the time. In an outstanding individual effort, junior Kevin Halliday maintained possession in the left side of the box and found his brother Zach Halliday wide open in front of the goal. Zach put a shot into the left side and Tufts led 2-0 in the 61st minute. The goal marked the first time that the Halliday brothers connected on a goal in their three years together at Tufts.
Up 2-0, and having not allowed a goal in NCAA Tournament play this year, the Jumbos looked like they had control of the game. However, that would not be the case as St. Thomas cut the lead in half in the 72nd minute. A corner kick by Alex Schnobrich was headed in by Johnny Mulvahill and it was a new game. The St. Thomas goal ended a defensive shutout streak of 438:18 by the Jumbos dating back to October 29.
The Tommies would create more scoring opportunities as the clock wound down. A Pierce Erickson header was deflected wide resulting in a corner that went for naught. Another shot by Erickson in the final five minutes just floated wide. Tufts was able to finish off the victory and will play with a chance to win Tufts' ninth NCAA title tomorrow.
Greenwood made five saves in the Tufts net for the win, while his counterpart Hogan stopped eight shots. St. Thomas finished with a slim 13-12 advantage in total shots. Both teams had seven corner attempts in the game and combined for nine in an exciting second half.
Head coach Josh Shapiro's Jumbos, in the midst of their sixth NCAA appearance overall, improved to 15-4 in NCAA play overall and have won 13 of their last 14 NCAA games. In 2014, they captured the program's first NCAA title with a 4-2 victory over Wheaton (Ill.) in Kansas City.
The St. Thomas team Tufts eliminated had set school records for victories (20) and shutouts (16) this fall and won the program's first outright Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title in 25 years. The Tommies had reached the NCAA playoffs for the first time in 21 seasons.