YORK, Pa. – From the moment the clock started, all that were in attendance for Saturday's CAC Championship game between #25 Salisbury University (12-3-5) and #20 York College of Pennsylvania (16-4-1) knew that there was soon to be a slugfest between two perennial powerhouses. In a game that could not be finished in regulation, or even in the 20 minutes of overtime soccer, the Spartans prevailed in penalty kicks 4-3 to secure their second consecutive CAC Championship. The win also guaranteed the squad a berth in the upcoming 2010 NCAA Tournament.
Even though the Green and White held the advantage going into the game having defeated the Sea Gulls during their Oct. 23 match by a score of 1-0, they knew that Salisbury is a team that cannot be taken lightly. This was entirely evident during the beginning minutes of play, as the Spartan defense applied solid pressure to an aggressive and explosive Salisbury offense.
"I almost go into these games [versus Salisbury] thinking of it not as [an average] game," stated sophomore standout Antonio Bua. "This is a war."
The Sea Gulls broke the midfield battle on a goal in the 31st minute at the foot of junior midfielder Stafford Chipungu. Chipungu raced down a ball chipped into the Spartan defensive zone by sophomore forward Phil Bucheimer before landing a shot on net from the right flank that just got through the fingertips of junior goalkeeper Jesse Derksen's outstretched hand. Following Chipungu's goal the Spartan offensive appeared to be sluggish heading into the conclusion of the first half, indicated by a Spartan frustration foul with two minutes remaining in the half.
"I just wanted to make sure we continued to play to our ability," stated Spartan head coach Mark Ludwig in regards to what he told his players during halftime. "The level of intensity when playing Salisbury is freakishly high, [I told them] to keep focus and stick with the game plan put in front of them."
Ludwig's words of encouragement strongly resonated throughout the Spartans, as the team entered the second half with a ferocity and passion not shown during the first half of play. After a couple of errant shots from outside the 18-yard box, senior captain Lucas Emil allowed his leadership to take over by producing a turnover that was played to sophomore midfielder Cody Pearson. Pearson did his best to produce a service that was collected by Bua, who directed the loose ball gingerly off his chest before firing a shot past Salisbury goalkeeper John Vnenchak to tie the score at 1-1 in the 59th minute.
"I saw that the defender made a mistake and knew I had to put a soft foot on it off my chest to kick it in," remarked Bua.
As Spartan Nation erupted with and ecstatic applause, the goal immediately put all of the momentum in York's favor for the remainder of regulation. The squads continued back-and-forth for the remainder of the game, with the Spartan defense providing game-saving plays on two occasions. With less than three minutes left in regulation, junior defenseman Andy Stromberg used his head to block a dangerous cross in front of Derksen before freshman defenseman Matt Yackel provided solid defense to keep the ball out of the box and secure a goal kick for York.
The Sea Gulls supplied minimal threats throughout the two overtime periods, yet were kept in the game due in large part to the outstanding play of Vnenchak, who made several athletic saves to keep shots from the Green and White out of the net. After 110 minutes of play, the scoreboard read 1-1 and the 2010 Spartans would be required to prevail in an area they have not been very successful over the recent run of excellence: penalty kicks.
Ludwig selected junior forward Kemal Nuspahic to line up as York's first shooter during the penalty kick period, which proved to be the right move as Nuspahic netted a shot. Ludwig also decided to keep Derksen between the pipes instead of substituting the services of junior goaltender Ethan Kavanagh. Once again, Ludwig showed his coaching prowess as Derksen made an athletic save to his right on the shot of Salisbury's first shooter.
The second round was highlighted by a save by Vnenchak and goal on Salisbury's second shooter, Mike Napolitano. Following a miss just high of the crossbar by York's third shooter, Derksen responded by making his second save against Salisbury's third shooter. After York goals by senior captain Mike O'Connell, Stromberg and sophomore Justin Facer, and Salisbury scores by seniors Dave Corrigan and Justin Lambert, Derksen was one save away from propelling York to another CAC Championship victory.
"All the pressure is on the forward as they are only 12 yards out," stated Derksen. "They should put it on net every time. If I make one save then I'm doing my job."
With everyone is attendance holding their breath in silence, Salisbury's sixth shooter approached the ball and blasted a shot on goal. Derksen assumed correctly in his dive and emphatically punched the shot away from the net to give York a 4-3 victory in penalty shots, garnering victory for a Spartan squad that remained a perfect 9-0 in Conference play.
"Just an unbelievable season for the team," exclaimed junior midfielder Mike Gill. "This game was so special for everyone, especially being as we went 4-3 to start the season. This is the best team I have ever been on."
This marks the sixth time Ludwig has reached the NCAA Tournament during his 12-year career at York. The practices leading up to the first round will be crucial, however Ludwig seems confident in this year's group.
"We just need to keep getting better, continuing to play better," stated Ludwig. "We need to be better next week than we were this week."
The Spartans will find out who and where they play on Monday afternoon at 2:00 pm when the NCAA Division III Men's Soccer tournament bracket is unveiled. The Spartans hosted the first two rounds of the tournament in 2009 and could be in line to serve as a host again in 2010.
Game story courtesy of Matt Pucci - Athletic Communications Contributing Writer
Photo animation courtesy of Zach Clabaugh - www.sharpedgefoto.com