GREENSBORO, N.C. – Tournament Most Outstanding Player Jeremy Booth made a crucial shootout save and Max Poore converted with the clinching score as No. 2 seed Mercer downed No. 1 seed ETSU in penalty kicks after the squads played to a scoreless draw in the title game of the Southern Conference Men’s Soccer Championship at the UNCG Soccer Stadium on Saturday. With the win, the Bears claimed the SoCon’s automatic bid to the NCAA Championship.
Mercer (13-6-1) will learn its NCAA fate on Monday, when the NCAA Selection Show airs on NCAA.com at 1 p.m. ETSU (12-4-3), which entered the tournament with an RPI of 32, could potentially also see its named called as an at-large selection.
After 110 minutes of scoreless soccer, including a pair of sudden-death overtimes, the game moved to penalty kicks. After Mercer’s Nickolas Tripodi and ETSU’s Serge Gomis traded makes, the Bears’ Trenton Whitely converted to put Mercer up 2-1. Booth then dove to his right to smother SoCon Freshman of the Year Joe Pickering’s attempt, and Mercer’s Airrion Blackstock softly rolled his into the lower left corner to make it a 3-1 spread.
ETSU’s Joao Ramalho put his attempt off the crossbar, meaning that if Poore sank his attempt, the Bears would claim their first SoCon tournament title since joining the league in 2014. The senior from McDonough, Georgia, did just that, stutter-stepping to the ball and then slotting it down the middle while SoCon Goalkeeper of the Year Jonny Sutherland of ETSU dove to his left.
The shootout provided an exciting and sudden end to a match that didn’t provide many scoring chances for either side. Mercer outshot the Bucs 10-4 in the contest, including a 4-0 margin in the two extra frames.
With about 23 minutes left in regulation, SoCon Player of the Year Will Bagrou took a breakaway down to the right corner and crossed the ball in to Roberto Arteaga, whose shot was blocked from 15 yards out. Just moments later, ETSU’s Ramalho fired a shot from the top of the box, but Booth was there to smother it for his lone official save on the night.
The Bucs earned a corner kick with 10 seconds left in regulation, and Javier Alberto got off a shot just before time expired that went high.
Bagrou had the best scoring chance in the first overtime, shooting from 20 yards out with just over a minute to play, but his shot was deflected wide and high. The ensuing corner kick came up empty.
One of the most exciting plays of the match game with just under nine minutes to play in the second overtime, as Bagrou had a point-blank shot from 8 yards out that Sutherland was able to knock away, keeping the game scoreless.
The scoreless draw was perhaps not unexpected from two of the most tenacious defensive teams in the league. ETSU’s shutout was its ninth of the season, while Mercer’s was its eighth.
In addition to providing its first SoCon tournament title, Mercer’s win avenged a pair of losses to ETSU from earlier in the year, including one on the final day of the regular season that gave the Bucs the regular-season SoCon title.
This year’s tournament was just the second in SoCon history to go to penalty kicks. The other, in 1990, saw Appalachian State edge The Citadel 4-3 after playing to a 1-1 draw.
2016 SoCon Men’s Soccer Championship All-Tournament Team
Matteo Busio, UNCG
Eric Gunnarsson, UNCG
Tanner DeFreitas, Wofford
Kyle Nelson, Wofford
Jeffrey George, ETSU
Jonny Sutherland, ETSU
Cameron Woodfin, ETSU
Ian Antley, Mercer
Airrion Blackstock, Mercer
Jeremy Booth, Mercer
Trenton Whitely, Mercer
Most Outstanding Player
Jeremy Booth, Mercer
Pinnacle Award (highest cumulative GPA among championship-eligible student-athletes on winning team)
Jake Mezei, Mercer
2016 SoCon Men’s Soccer Championship
Quarterfinal Round, Saturday, Nov. 5
Campus sites (at higher seeds)
Match 1: No. 4 UNCG 1, No. 5 Furman 0
Match 2: No. 3 Wofford 3, No. 6 VMI 1
Semifinals, Thursday, Nov. 10
Match 3: No. 1 ETSU 5, No. 4 UNCG 2
Match 4: No. 2 Mercer 2, No. 3 Wofford 0
Championship, Saturday, Nov. 12
Match 5: No. 2 Mercer 0, No. 1 ETSU 0 (Mercer in PKs, 4-1)