WINONA LAKE – Stunned.
That was about the only way to sum up Grace’s sideline after losing to Indiana Wesleyan Wednesday night in the opening round of the Crossroads League men’s soccer tournament.
Knotted at 3-3 after regulation and then after two overtime sessions, the two teams went to penalties to decide matters. After a full rotation through the lineups, both teams were still tied at 7-7 in conversions. Working all the way up to 11-10, Wesleyan keeper Naoyo Fugono made the decisive save to his left to end the shootout and send the Wildcats onto the tournament semi-final.
“We shouldn’t have been in that position to begin with, and I’ll take responsibility for that,” said Grace head coach Matt Hotchkin. “It’s unfortunate that we gave up the lead tonight. We didn’t take advantage of that two-goal lead and we changed how we played. That’s my fault for not having the guys prepared for that moment.”
Grace built a 3-1 lead late in the second half, and nearly had a fourth twice, but saw IWU rally to get two goals in the final five minutes to tie the match and send matters into overtime.
CJ Strawser put the Wildcats up 1-0 in the first half on a big-time volley, but Grace responded with a goal by Ivan Santagiuliana just before half, assisted by Togo Narusawa.
The Lancers’ momentum continued into the start of the second half. Breno Oliveira made a leading pass to Narusawa, and Narusawa’s low blast beat IWU’s goalkeeper for the go-ahead goal five minutes into the second half.
Midway into the half, Grace put the ball in the back of the net on a laser from Santagiuliana. But Grace’s goal was disallowed due to a foul call seconds earlier.
With less than 10 minutes to play, Grace added an insurance goal. Marcelo Talamas was fouled, and Breno Oliveira took the long free kick in front of the Lancers’ bench. His cross connected with Cody Boerema, whose looping header glanced off the post and into the net.
Boerema had a chance to score again minutes later on an empty net, but his chipped shot above the goalkeeper went wide of the net.
IWU mounted its rally in desperation down two, and had Strawser once again work his magic to cut the lead to one with six minutes to go. Just under two minutes, IWU found the equalizer when a clearance didn’t make it far enough, and the return service found Luis Rodriguez open just enough to slide his shot through traffic and into the net.
The overtime periods were played evenly with IWU holding a slight 5-4 edge in shot attempts. But neither side was able to find a golden goal winner, sending the match to a penalty shootout. What IWU had, however, was nearly all the momentum, and that made a difference in what was an extremely physical game that saw a combined 28 fouls and six yellow cards.
“I thought we had a really good cushion with 12 minutes to go, really unfortunate,” Hotchkin said. “College soccer is a physical game and it’s the end of the season for the Crossroads League and teams are wanting to move on in the tournament. It showed this game means a lot for both sides. With a game that had so much emotion, those shifts in momentum were big.”
IWU missed three of its first four penalty kicks to give Grace a golden opportunity; Kurt Hamlin came up clutch by saving two of those early attempts against the Wildcats.
Grace failed to capitalize, however, misfiring on three straight attempts – all on blocks by Fugono – to let the Wildcats even the score.
The PK shootout turned into an instant classic at that stage as each kick taker continued to convert. The shootout saw 19 consecutive successful PK attempts, reaching 14 rounds of drama. After IWU hit its 11th make, Fugono finally made the decisive save to send the Wildcats onto the semi-finals, where it will take visit Huntington Saturday. Taylor and Spring Arbor will play in the other semi-final.
Grace outshot IWU 25-18 overall in the contest, including 21-13 in regulation. Hamlin saved 10 shots in 110 minutes in a strong contest, and he even converted a PK attempt during the shootout.
Narusawa and Ulisses Miranda shot four times to lead Grace, and Colin Cape and Talamas each had three shots.
The Lancers will regroup for NCCAA qualifying. Grace will likely play at least one match in NCCAA regional play in an attempt to reach a fourth consecutive NCCAA national tournament.
“The guys were really discouraged tonight with the result, but we get a chance to wake up tomorrow and start a new day,” Hotchkin said. “We’ve got another tournament that we can regroup and play for. I think the guys can bounce back and play well. I think we have a really special group of guys. It’s a discouraging finish to tonight, but we have the character to come back and get back at it tomorrow.”