Minutemen draw with Billikens in season finale

By Herb Scribner

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Geoff King/Collegian

A must win.  There was no other way to describe the scenario as the Minutemen headed into St. Louis yesterday, facing the Saint Louis Billikens in the final game of the regular season.  Both teams came into the game with their seasons on the line – UMass needing a win to advance to the A-10 Conference Tournament, and SLU needing at least a tie.

After 45 minutes of relatively uneventful soccer, nothing was solved.  Headed into the second half, it was do or die for both squads.

“I thought we were playing well, and we were able to match their energy,” said Minutemen head coach Sam Koch. 

And that energy led to the game’s first goal, which came early in the second half.  In the 62nd minute, junior forward Bryant Craft buried a shot from the right side, netting his 7th goal of the season.  The goal was assisted by senior Stuart Amick.

  Just five minutes later, UMass added another, effectively silencing Billiken fans at Robert R. Hermann Stadium.  Senior midfielder Ben Arikian launched an unassisted shot just past Billiken goalkeeper Mark Pais, putting the Minutemen in the driver’s seat with a 2-0 lead and only 22 minutes on the clock.

But the Billikens would not go down lightly. Despite a deflated crowd, SLU kept up the offensive attack. In the 73rd minute, sophomore Alex Sweetin lobbed a cross into the box for senior Alex Johnston, who headed it into the back of the net to cut the Minutemen lead in half.

Six minutes later, SLU put in the equalizer when freshman Sito Sasieta scored off an assist from Mike Roach.

After four goals in 17 minutes, the game was locked up once again. The Billikens, however, maintained the momentum in a game that turned on the slightest of mistakes.

That mistake came in the final minute, when UMass turned the ball over inside their own box. As SLU attempted to capitalize, senior goalkeeper Chris Piekos made a diving save to keep the season alive for UMass.

“He’s made some really key saves for us this year,” said Koch.  “We needed him to come up big, and he did with the game on the line.”

After regulation and 20 minutes of overtime, the game ended in a tie. 

But for UMass, that wouldn’t be good enough to earn a spot in the Atlantic 10 Championship Tournament. The Minutemen finished the season in a three-way tie with Xavier and Fordham for 6th place, but due to the league’s tie-breaking procedures, Xavier will advance to the tournament as the last team in.

UMass finished the season with a 5-5-8 overall record, and a 4-2-3 tally in-conference.

Friday night didn’t go the way the team would have hoped. As for Charlotte, it was business as usual.

Boasting a strong and undefeated road record, the Minutemen traveled to No. 18 Charlotte hoping to slay the Atlantic 10-leading 49ers.

While the first half was an equal battle between the two sides, with neither squad scoring despite an onslaught of shots taken by Charlotte (17), the second half went in favor of the 49ers, as the Green and Gold unleashed two goals on UMass.

The first goal came off a corner kick in the 49th minute, with Donnie Smith netting a goal off the delivery.

 Just over 30 minutes later, in the 80th minute, Charlotte was at it again with an offensive push. Evan James, who had an impressive six shots in the game, completed a clean pass through the Minutemen defense, connecting with Will Mayhew, who nailed this third goal of the season.

UMass played a very quiet game against Charlotte, taking four shots throughout the whole contest with only one, David Key’s, on goal.

In the net, Minutemen goalkeeper Chris Piekos had a tougher time than the 49ers’ Klay Davis. Piekos had a total 23 shots taken on him, nabbing five saves in the process. Davis had one save throughout the 90 minutes.

The 49ers dominated on all offensive fronts, taking 12 corner kicks to outmatch the Minutemen’s pair.

The result put a heavy monkey on the backs of the Minutemen. While the 49ers continue to steamroll through the A-10, UMass fell to 7th in the conference and out of playoff contention.

As for Charlotte, the 49ers are far enough ahead of other conferences foes that it earned the Atlantic 10 regular season championship.

Herb Scribner can be reached at [email protected]