Late-game heroics lift men's soccer into NEC tournament final

Photo by David Silverman
Photo by David Silverman

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. – Continuing their magical late-season run, the third-seeded Bryant University men's soccer team defeated second-seeded Saint Francis U., 2-2 (3-0 PKs), to advance to the Northeast Conference tournament championship for the first time in program history in front of a loud and passionate Bryant-dominated crowd on Friday night at the CCSU Soccer Field.

"The crowd tonight was absolutely tremendous," said head coach Seamus Purcell. "They helped turn a neutral match into a home field advantage for us and we are extremely appreciative of their support and dedication."

Junior forward Connor Norat (Wilmington, Del.) headed home the equalizer in the 89th minute off a free kick from classmate Shane Murphy (Kennett Square, Pa.) and sophomore keeper Chris Knaub (Yarmouth, Maine) made a pair of stops in the penalty kicks to go along with a career-high 12 saves to propel the Bulldogs (7-8-2) into Sunday's tournament championship against fourth-seeded St. Francis Brooklyn. The Red Flash finish their season with a record of 11-4-4.

Energized by the loud crowd, the Black and Gold got on the board first with a beautifully designed set piece. Awarded a free kick just outside the 18, freshman Curtis Orth (Ancaster, Ont.) touched the ball back to classmate Pedro-Lucas Ferreira (Boston, Mass.) and he wired a shot inside the left post for his first-career goal.

After shaking off the early pressure from the Bulldogs, the Red Flash were able to notch the equalizer just before half and took the lead with a marker in the 70th minute.

With the outcome all but determined, Murphy stepped up to a free kick attempt just outside the box. The junior played a perfectly placed ball onto the head of a streaking Norat who redirected it by SFU keeper Daniel Valcicak for the equalizer with just 1:30 left on the clock.

The two teams then played 20 minutes of scoreless overtime before deciding the game in penalty kicks. Shooting first, Norat buried his shot inside the left post. Knaub followed with an outstanding diving stop on the first Red Flash attempt. Lucas Guerriero (Pickering, Ont.) converted his attempt in the second round and Knaub followed with another superb save to keep SFU off the board. In the deciding third round, Murphy potted his attempt in the upper left corner before the third Red Flash attempt rang off the crossbar, punching Bryant's ticket to the championship game.

Bryant will face St. Francis Brooklyn on Sunday at 1:00 p.m. for the NEC tournament title and the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The Terriers upset top-seeded Central Connecticut, 2-0, in Friday's first game.

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