After defeating Connecticut (Nov. 26), UC Santa Barbara (Nov.30) and Creighton (Dec. 7) in thrilling fashion, the St. John’smen’s soccer team was poised to win its second NationalChampionship as it headed to Ohio for its second Final Fourappearance in three years.
Known for its commitment to defensive excellence, the Red Stormshutout offensive powerhouse Maryland, 1-0 in the first semifinaland awaited Indiana, an overtime winner of Santa Clara.
Behind Sebastian Alvarado-Ralph’s goal on a penalty kick and themarvelous performance from goalkeeeper Bill Gaudette and his ninesaves, St. John’s advanced to the National Championship, its firstsince 1996.
“We knew we had a stiff challenge in front of us,” St. John’shead coach Dave Masur said. “Maryland is a tough team, with manyskilled players who can attack you. We got the goal in the firsthalf, and our guys made it stick.”
The Red Storm’s shutout victory over the Terrapins was one oftrue inspiration. One of its team captains and Big East Midfielderof the Year, Matia Damiani, played the full 90 minutes aftersuffering a broken arm just two weeks earlier.
By advancing to the NCAA College Cup, both the Johnnies andHoosiers ensured a rematch of 2001, as Indiana outlasted St.John’s, 2-1 in double overtime.
By coming from behind and handing Creigton a 3-2 loss in theElite Eight, St. John’s had only the Hoosiers to check off its listof teams who ended its playoff runs in recent years.
But Columbus Crew Stadium is not nearly as friendly as theconfines of Belson Stadium, where St. John’s (17-6-3) could winwith its eyes closed as Indiana (17-3-5) scored two goals in thefirst half to defeat St. Johns, 2-1 in front of 5,300.
“I’m proud of my kids and the effort they gave today,” Masursaid. “Sometimes, the higher you climb, the harder you fall.”
With snowflakes beginning to cover the field, the sixth-seededRed Storm would not go down quietly though, fighting from a twogoal deficit for the entire contest, and coming close in the latestages to forcing the game into overtime.
In the 79th minute, SJU’s efforts finally paid off after juniorChris Corcoran headed a ball into the box and freshman AshleyKozicki played it off his right foot at the far post, beatingHoosier goalkeeper Jay Nolly, making it a one goal game with 11:57to play.
St. John’s had a number of chances to tie the game as the clockwound down, but could not find the back of the net as Indiana heldon for win.
Nolly, who recorded 10 saves, prevented goals by Tim O’ Neilland Alvarado-Ralph. A header by Corcoran almost found its way pastNolly, whose final save came with 11 seconds left as he turned awaySimone Salinno’s last effort shot as Indiana celebrated itschampionship win.
After neither team scored in the first 14 minutes, Indiana madethe most of its first chance. A ball was played back towardmidfield by a Hoosier, who was fouled at the top of the box by SJUdefender Chris Leidner.
Luckily for Indiana, forward Ned Grabavoy returned just in timefor the game (he arrived in Columbus at midnight after playing forthe United States Under-20 team in the United Arab Emirates), ashis kick from 22 yards out beat SJU goalkeeper Bill Gaudette to thelower far post.
Just five minutes later, SJU defender Jeff Carroll slipped atmidfield, allowing IU’s Jacob Peterson to make a long run and blastone from 18 yards out that beat Gaudette to the lower nearpost.
Gaudette Saves DayMaryland 0St. John’s 1
Not Again!Indiana 2St. John’s 1