SJU take first round of BE tournament

Neil Kitson leapt, and so did the Red Storm.

The goalkeeper’s leap was a magnificent diving save off Christia Vercollone in a penalty kick shootout to break a 2-2 tie Wednesday night against Seton Hall. Its result was a leap by the Red Storm into the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament.
Kitson’s save-one of three he made in the shootout alone-was the culmination of 110 minutes of soccer that was typified by Seton Hall’s ability to respond to Red Storm goals.

The first half saw all four goals scored in regulation. The Red Storm got out to an early lead after Michael Luk kept a cleared corner kick alive and found Jeff Stepan, who crossed the ball to Omar Alfonso on the nearside. Alfonso blasted the ball over the head of Pirate goalkeeper Paul McHenry in the 10th minute for his fourth goal of the year.

But just three minutes passed before Kurt Cameron tallied his first point of the year and tied the game back up at one in the 13th minute.

Kitson, who has been the starting keeper since senior Jason Landers went down with an injury with two games left to play in the regular season, finished with two saves in the game, both coming in the second half.

In the 27th minute the Red Storm jumped back on top with a goal similar to its first. But this time it was Joel Gustafsson who deflected the Seton Hall clearance attempt towards Stepan. Stepan, like Alfonso, came through for his fourth goal of the year, and finished with two shots, a goal and an assist.

This time it took four minutes before an answer came from the Pirates, who were playing without standout Eliseo Giusfredi. In the 31st minute Cameron struck a cross that found the head of forward Carlos Salazar. Salazar knocked it past Kitson on the far post and the score was tied at two.

In the second half, the teams traded scoring opportunities, but none would amount to goals. Gustafsson’s header sailed high in the 89th minute, ensuring that the game would go to overtime.

The Red Storm managed three shots and won five corner kicks-four of which came in the second OT-in the two 10-minute extra periods, but neither team forced the opposing keeper to make a save in the overtimes, and the game went into a shootout.

Seton Hall shot first, but Brayan Martinez clanked his attempt off the crossbar. After both Alfonso and Nelson Becerra converted for the Red Storm, it was Salazar’s turn for the Pirates. But the first of Kitson’s diving-stops and then another conversion for the Storm, this time by Alexandre Ivo, put them up 3-1.

Jon Lewandowski had to score to keep his Pirates in it and he did. And after McHenry tallied a save off Stepan, the pressure was on Kitson to make the save and keep the shootout from going the full five shooters.

Vercollone stepped in and struck the type of ball that usually results in a goal: a hard, low one to Kitson’s left that looked good at first. But Kitson fully extended both his arms and legs and deflected the ball wide off his outstretched hands.