KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Grace’s men’s soccer team finds itself 90 minutes away from hoisting a championship trophy for the first time in program history.
Ivan Santagiuliana scored the winning goal in the first half, and the Lancers upset top-seed Campbellsville 1-0 on Friday in the NCCAA national semifinals.
Grace will take on Mid-America Christian on Saturday in the NCCAA championship. The match, held at Austin-Tindall Sports Complex, is slated for a 5 p.m. kickoff.
Grace is making its third appearance in team history to the national championship game, having lost in the finals in both 1973 and 1976.
“Today was the culmination of a lot of hard work and sacrifice from the players and coaches. We’ve said all year that we don’t just want to win games, but we want to do it our way,” said Grace head coach Arron Patrick. “We wanted to be brave and have quality on the ball and then be courageous and strong defensively to close the game out.”
Friday’s match was an action-packed contest despite having just one goal. The teams were credited with 45 combined shots to go along with 18 corner kicks.
The Tigers came out aggressive to start the match, firing six shots in the opening minutes.
The Lancers (11-7-3) absorbed the pressure and began to implement their possession for much of the first half.
Grace’s ball control and pressure kept the Tigers pinned down to their defensive end for large swaths of time. One large segment included four corner kicks in the span of a minute, ultimately producing the game’s first goal.
After Grace’s fourth corner kick was played out of the penalty box, Togo Narusawa sliced a low pass along the top of the box. The ball came to Santagiuliana, who pounded the shot past the goalkeeper inside the far post at the 24:16 mark.
Incredibly, Santagiuliana’s goal was the only goal that the Tigers allowed during three NCCAA tournament games. Campbellsville, also an NAIA Opening Round qualifier, finished its season with a 14-6-1 record.
The Tigers had chances to score as well. With six minutes remaining in the first half, Santagiuliana made a sliding save on Grace’s goal line to keep the Tigers scoreless.
The teams went into halftime with Grace on top 1-0. Each side recorded 10 shots before halftime. The Lancers had a 5-3 edge in corner kicks.
The Lancers did not enjoy the same dominance in possession during the second half; the Tigers kept numbers forward in pursuit of an equalizer.
With 28 minutes left, the Tigers produced a dangerous chance on a corner kick. Campbellsville drilled the goalpost with a long-range shot to put a scare in Grace’s defense.
Seven minutes later, Ulisses Miranda tried a point-blank shot that resulted in a stout save.
The Tigers hit the post again with seven minutes on the clock after a deep shot found a hole in Grace’s backline.
Campbellsville was shut out for just the third time this season. Colton Wottring recorded five saves for the semifinal shutout. He was protected well by Cole Voss, Santagiuliana, Kyle Smith, Gabriel Dos Santos and others.
Ze Maria Goncalves led Grace with three shots, and Ulisses Miranda had two shots on goal.
So far, Grace has scored six goals in NCCAA tournament play; all six goals have been scored by a different Lancer.
“Today was a big win, but we are already focused on recovery and how we prepare to be our best again tomorrow,” Patrick continued. “We hope that we represented ourselves, Grace and more importantly Christ through our performance today. Knowing that giving our all pleases the Lord is important to us, and we did that today.”