GREENSBORO, N.C. - A two-goal effort, and an overtime game-winner from Albert Pedra helps secure No. 2 UNCG men's soccer a spot in this year's Southern Conference Championship tournament final. After going down by two goals, the Spartans mounted a 3-2 comeback victory, defeating visiting No. 6 Belmont in the first round of OT to advance to next Sunday's title bout for a third straight season.
"Obviously it wasn't a great situation to be in, down 2-0, on two set piece goals," said Head Coach Chris Rich in postmatch. "Belmont played well tonight. It was a good Belmont team that we saw tonight, but for us it was just more of the same. We were playing pretty well, and I think, were in control of the game for the most part... we just needed to stick to the game plan. As long as we did that, we would get back into the game. Goals change games, and we got that first one to make it 2-1. Our belief was there, we stuck to the game plan to get number two off the PK, and all of a sudden I felt like it was all UNCG at that point. So we just had to stay committed, deal with what they were bringing to the table, and stay committed to our game plan."
Despite the Spartans leading in both the possession and shot categories in the early stages, it would be the Bruins to open up scoring in Sunday night's semifinal, putting away a free kick opportunity in the 27th minute.
After being held to just three shots in the opening 45 minutes, Belmont found the back of the net once again at the start of the second half, putting away its second of the night on a corner opportunity just five minutes out of the break.
UNCG would flip a switch after conceding that second goal however, outshooting their opponents 11-1 in the final 40 minutes of the contest. Spartan striker Micah Albert cut the Bruins' lead in half just three minutes after giving up that second finish, finishing off a long ball from defender Matthew Cutler. Making a run behind the Belmont defense, Albert lofted a ball over an aggressive Bruins keeper, collecting his team's first of the night from a shot taken three yards inside the 18.
With the Spartans controlling the overall pace of play, Albert Pedra drew his team's fourth penalty of 2019 during the 63rd, getting tripped by the Belmont defense a few feet above the PK spot. After drawing the foul, the Spanish winger was chosen to take the potential tying penalty, sending a shot up the middle that deflected off the keeper's hands and into the back of the net.
All even at 2-2 after 90 minutes, the Spartans embarked on extra time for just the second time in the 2019 season, where Pedra would prove the evening's hero for a second straight match. Delaying his run behind the Bruins' back line, Pedra found a release up the middle of the field on a chipped through ball from teammate Angel Bacho in the 97th minute, before delivering the right-footed finish into the side-netting for the night's winner. Pedra's goal improves the winger's season total to a team-high of 10, sending his team to this year's SoCon Championship final with a 3-2 overall decision.
"I think he's [Albert Pedra] fantastic," said Coach Rich. "He's a great human being, a great person and a very good soccer player. He's been huge for us...He's a great addition to our program and he's had a great year so far. We definitely need him to continue that form for us to continue to be successful next week..."
Three Things To Know
-- The Spartans have not dropped a match inside UNCG Soccer Stadium since falling to App State at home on September 21st, they will play this year's final in Greensboro against No. 4 Mercer on Sunday at 6 p.m.
-- Albert Pedra has scored five of his 10 goals on the year in his past two appearances, he trails only Mercer's Trevor Martineau (13) for a conference-high
-- Matthew Cutler has assisted on three of his team's six goals over the past two matches, he's now tied with Nelson Oceano for a team lead in helpers, with six
COMING UP NEXT
With No. 4 Mercer providing the double-overtime upset over No. 1 Furman in Sunday's midday semifinal, the No. 2 Spartans have now clinched home field advantage for this year's Southern Conference final, playing the Bears at UNCG Soccer Stadium Sunday November 17th at 6 p.m. UNCG defeated Mercer 2-0 at home during the regular season, and are 1-1-1 when playing the Bears in the postseason.
-- UNCG –