GREENVILLE, S.C. – Jeremy Booth, the tournament’s most outstanding player, had three shootout saves and Will Bagrou scored the decisive penalty kick to lift the Mercer to its second straight Southern Conference Championship title Sunday, as the No. 4-seeded Bears defeated the No. 2-seeded UNCG 3-2 on penalty kicks. Mercer’s Jake Mezei and UNCG’s Leeroy Maguraushe each scored in the first half, as the two teams battled to a 1-1 draw through double overtime, setting up the shootout.
Both sides had chances early, but it was Mezei who put Mercer ahead in the 14th minute. The ball was worked up the left side and swung into the box where Mezei redirected it through traffic and into the back of the net to give Mercer a 1-0 lead.
After Matt Mattis nearly tied the game in the 23rd, Matteo Busio played the ball to Maguraushe, who fired it from outside of the box to even the score 1-1.
In the 33rd minute, Mercer would get fouled just outside of the box, leading to a corner. Mezei whipped the ball into the box, where Milligan and the UNCG defense cleared it out of play.
With the half winding down, UNCG worked the ball across the box to Maguraushe who pushed the ball just wide of the net.
Mercer’s Kobe Perez nearly regained the lead in the 52nd minute, cutting through a pair of defenders and shooting from 11 yards out, but Milligan was there for the save.
In the 62nd minute, UNCG’s Nelson Oceano had his shot blocked to set up a corner kick. On the ensuing corner, it was Booth who won the ball in traffic to end the scoring chance. Minutes later, Mattis broke free and fired a shot that was once again turned away by Booth.
Mezei threatened again in the 71st, sending a shot just wide of the post. Minutes later, Mercer swung the ball into the box three times, but the UNCG back line cleared out all three attempts to keep the game gridlocked at 1-1. In the 76th minute, Trenton Whitely placed a ball on frame, forcing a diving save by Milligan.
Later, Maguraushe sent a low, dipping free kick into the box that was deflected out of bounds for a corner. After the ball was sent into play, Mattis leapt and headed the ball just outside of the post. Neither team would break the tie as the game shifted to overtime.
Bagrou and Mezei both had chances to end the game in the first overtime, but Milligan was there each time to make a save and extend the game.
In the second overtime, UNCG’s Casey Penland flicked a header on frame but Booth knocked it away to send the game into penalty kicks.
Like Friday’s semifinal, Booth began the shootout with a big save to give Mercer the advantage. Roberto Arteaga would drill his kick to put the Bears ahead 1-0. Milligan would come up huge three times to give the Spartans a chance to draw even. With the shootout tied at 2-2, Booth robbed UNCG’s Faisal Almubaslat to give Mercer a chance to clinch the game. The 2016 Player of the Year, Will Bagrou, would step up to the penalty spot, stutter-stepping before hitting a low line drive to the left and giving Mercer its second consecutive Southern Conference Championship.
This is the second straight year that Mercer has won the Southern Conference Championship on penalty kicks, as it defeated ETSU 4-1 in 2016. The Bears will find out their NCAA tournament opponent Monday during the selection show at 1 p.m. ET.
SoCon Men’s Soccer Championship All-Tournament Team
Nick Spielman, ETSU
Jonny Sutherland, ETSU
Zach Jackson, Furman
Cameron Robinson, Furman
Matteo Busio, UNCG
Josh Masten, UNCG
Jon Milligan, UNCG
Conner Antley, Mercer
Will Bagrou, Mercer
Jeremy Booth, Mercer
Kobe Perez, Mercer
Most Outstanding Player
Jeremy Booth, Mercer
Pinnacle Award (highest cumulative GPA among championship-eligible student-athletes on winning team)
JR Derose, Mercer
2017 SoCon Men’s Soccer Championship
First Round, Saturday, Nov. 4
Campus sites (at higher seeds)
Match 1: No 4 Mercer 2, No. 5 Wofford 1
Match 2: No. 3 Furman 7, No. 6 VMI 1
Semifinals, Friday, Nov. 10, Greenville, S.C.
Match 3: No. 1 ETSU vs. No. 4 Mercer 0, No. 1 ETSU 0 (Mercer 4-3 on PKs)
Match 4: No. 2 UNCG 3, No. 3 Furman 2
Championship, Sunday, Nov. 12, Greenville, S.C.
Match 5: No. 4 Mercer 1, No. 2 UNCG 1 (Mercer 3-2 on PKs)