Niagara Gazette — Senior Bryan Da Cruz lifted the Niagara men’s soccer team to a 1-0 overtime victory over top-seeded Loyola (Md.) Greyhounds in the MAAC tournament championship game on Saturday evening to earn the program’s first ever MAAC title and first berth into the NCAA tournament.
The win, which marked the first time the Purps have beaten the Greyhounds (13-6-1, 7-1-1) in MAAC tournament play, extended NU’s unbeaten streak to five games, improving its overall record to 13-1-4 and a 6-1-1 conference mark.
From beginning to end, neither team was able to gain the upper hand in possession, as both teams came out with a defensive mindset. After 45 minutes in the book, the score remained deadlocked at zero. The game was evenly matched at both ends, with Niagara getting seven shots compared to Loyola’s six.
Niagara came out aggressive, holding a nine to one advantage in fouls, giving the Greyhounds several quality scoring opportunities off set pieces, but NU keeper Brett Petricek was solid between the posts, making several key plays to keep the Greyhounds off the scoreboard.
Loyola had a quality opportunity off a direct kick in the 24th minute of play, as Dominic Marshall was fouled by Rene De Zorzi just outside the box. Marshall stepped up to take the shot, but the four-man wall served its purpose as the Purple Eagles blocked the rookie’s low offer.
The second 45 minutes of play was a mirror image of the first, as the shot count once again had NU up by a slim seven to six margin. The physical play continued as well with Niagara registering another nine fouls.
If the Purple Eagles wanted to notch their first championship win, they would have to do so in extra time once again, as the team was coming off an extra time effort in the semi-final match with Siena on Thursday.
In the opening overtime period, NU saw the better of the chances, outshooting Loyola, 2-1. Da Cruz had the best chance for the Purps, as a free kick opportunity from just outside the 18-yard line skimmed over the cross bar.
It was looking like for the second time in the tournament history between these two squads the final would be decided by penalty kicks, but Da Cruz made sure the game was wrapped up in overtime. Micah Paulino jump started the play as the sophomore dribbled up the right wing, and flicked a short pass to Da Cruz. The senior, who has three game-winning goals on the season thus far, took a shot from 12-yards out that beat Thurman Van Riper near post.
With the win, senior Da Cruz, De Zorzi, Mike Cunningham, Billy Cecere and Jacob Vertel found redemption in the heartbreaking double-overtime loss to the Greyhounds the then-freshmen suffered in the 2009 MAAC final.
The Purple Eagles now wait for their opponent in the upcoming NCAA Division I Tournament. The men’s soccer selection show will air live on NCAA.com at 5:30 p.m. Monday. Check www.PurpleEagles.com for more information regarding the NCAA tournament selection and play.