GREENSBORO, N.C. - No. 2 UNCG men's soccer's run toward a unified Southern Conference title comes to an end on Sunday night, falling to No. 4 Mercer by a score of 1-0 in this year's SoCon final. The Spartans outshot the Bears 24-11 on the evening, but it would be the visiting team's marker in the 62nd that would be the ultimate decider.
"We were fantastic the last 10-plus games," said Head Coach Chris Rich. "We were fantastic at the end of the regular season of SoCon play and we were very good in this tournament... I'm just so proud of the guys, and the form might have been the most impressive thing. The way we performed, the way we carried out in games and our style of play, and how we implemented that and executed that was great... All in all it was a great season and the guys did fantastic. To be regular season champions is something to be proud of..."
After both teams were content with feeling one another out in the opening 20 minutes, it would be the Spartans to turn up the pressure before the break, twice testing the Bears keeper in the first 45 minutes. Starting midfielder Bryant Huerta nearly netted the go ahead in the 23rd on a give-and-go with teammate Cameron Fowler, but the junior's shot from the left corner of the six-yard box was turned away.
UNCG would come within inches of an opening marker before reaching halftime, with a 20 yard strike from Micah Albert getting turned away by the Mercer keeper, and a set piece from Nelson Oceano going untouched through the mouth of the opposing goal.
Despite the home team's advantage in all major offensive categories, the Bears would be the first to strike, taking advantage of a miscommunication on the Spartan backline to score the first tally in the 62nd.
Matthew Skinner might have had his team's best shot at an equalizer in the second half, heading a ball from Oceano that struck the underside of the Mercer crossbar before coming back out into play.
A surging Spartan offense created one last major opportunity in the final seven minutes, with Pedra laying off a pass to Micah Albert a little over 20 yards out from goal. The striker's right-footed drive deflected off the Mercer defense and seemed destined for the bottom right corner, but a touch from the Bears' keeper would be enough to force UNCG's final shot on goal just a foot wide of the right post.
Time ultimately ran out for Coach Rich's side, as the Spartans were unable to find the equalizer before the final buzzer sounded. The 2019 Southern Conference Regular Season Champions' bid toward a unifying title would fall just short as this season's campaign ends at an overall record of 9-9-1.
Three Things To Know
-- This year's graduating class of Albert Pedra, Aidan Wixted, Connor Cochrane, Tevyn Henry and Casey Penland combined for 38 career wins over the past four seasons, claiming their program's first conference title since 2015
-- SoCon Player of the Year Casey Penland finishes his career at UNCG with 12 goals overall, the most of any Spartan defender in Division I program history
-- Micah Albert, Albert Pedra and Casey Penland all earned SoCon All-Tournament honors for their play in this year's bracket, all three of which earned First Team All-Southern Conference honors earlier this month
-- UNCG –