GREENSBORO, N.C. – The UNCG men’s soccer team saw its season come to an end Sunday afternoon on a cold and rainy day at Stone Soccer Stadium as the Spartans fell to Mercer 3-2 on penalty kicks after the teams were tied 1-1 through 110 minutes of play in the Southern Conference Tournament Championship game. Mercer earns the SoCon’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament with its second-straight tournament title, both coming on penalty kicks.
Junior goalkeeper Jon Milligan (Mount Pleasant, S.C./Wando), junior defender Josh Masten (Mount Pleasant, S.C./Wando) and junior midfielder Matteo Busio (Greensboro, N.C./Western Guilford) were named to the All-Tournament team for the second-seeded Spartans. Mercer goalkeeper Jeremy Booth was named the tournaments Most Outstanding Player for the second-straight season.
The game came down to penalty kicks after the teams were tied through two overtime periods and pitted Milligan and Booth against each other in net. After a save by Booth on the first UNCG kick, Roberto Arteaga converted in the first round to give Mercer a 1-0 lead. Busio tied the score in the second round and Milligan posted a save to make it 1-1 after round two.
The Spartans took a 2-1 lead in round three after senior Eric Gunnarsson (Falkenberg, Sweden) converted from the spot and Milligan posted a big save. Booth stepped up and recorded a save while Conner Antley tied the game at 2-2 in round four for Mercer. After another Booth save, Milligan had to make a save to keep the penalty kicks going in round five and he made a diving save on Trenton Whitely to send it into extra kicks. Booth saved his third-straight and fourth overall in round six before Will Bagrou beat Milligan to send the Bears to a 3-2 win in penalty kicks.
Mercer (7-8-6) opened the scoring in the 14th minute of play. Kobe Perez gained possession on the left-hand side and sent a cross through the 18-yard box. Jake Mezei ran on to the end of the cross from 15-yards out and fired a shot through traffic that beat Milligan for the 1-0 lead.
The Spartans (10-7-3) came back and tied the game in the 25th minute of play with an impressive strike. Busio won possession in the middle and slotted a ball to junior midfielder Leeroy Maguraushe (Milton Keynes, England). Maguraushe took his first touch and rocketed a shot from 25-yards out past Mercer goalkeeper Jeremy Booth and into the top corner tying the game at 1-1 with his fourth goal of the year.
The Spartans came close to take the lead in the 37th minute of play. Busio again was involved as he sprung freshman Nelson Oceano (Berlin, Germany) with a through ball. Oceano looked in alone and fired a shot on goal but a Mercer defender had a sliding block to deflect the ball over the cross bar and keep the game tied at 1-1.
The second half saw each team come up with chances but both goalkeepers stood tall. Milligan stopped Kobe Perez from 16-yards out in the 52nd minute and Whitely from 18-yards out in the 76th minute. Junior Matt Mattis (Little Stoke, England) hit the post in the 64th minute while Booth stopped sophomore defender Casey Penland (High Point, N.C./High Point Christian) in the 78th minute off a corner kick. Mattis also had a chance in the 78th minute, but his header sailed just wide of the post.
Mercer had the best chances in the first overtime period as Bagrou started to heat up. He had a chance form close range in the 93rd minute but Milligan thwarted his attack. His shot in the 97th minute from 18-yards out sailed just wide of goal.
The Spartans had the best chance in the second overtime in the 102nd minute of play after the Bears were whistled for a foul. Busio sent the free kick into the box where Penland rose above two defenders on the back post and rammed a header on goal but Booth was able to make a sprawling save to keep the Bears in the contest.
-- UNCG --