Men's soccer advances in 2OT thriller

Photo by Haley Staffon
Photo by Haley Staffon

BY DOUG HENNES

St. Thomas defeated Benedictine 2-1 Saturday in two overtimes in the NCAA Division III men's soccer playoffs in Chicago to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time in school history.

The eighth-ranked Tommies (19-1-3) rallied from a one-goal deficit to tie the game with three minutes remaining in regulation on a Christian Elliehausen header, and won the Sweet 16 game early in the second overtime on a Tyler Oliver kick.

St. Thomas will face No. 25 Redlands (18-5-1), a 3-2 upset winner over undefeated and top-ranked Chicago, at 1 p.m. Sunday for the right to play in the Final Four on Dec. 2-3 in Salem, Virginia.
 
"These guys really believe in each other and what we do as a team," coach Jon Lowery said after comeback, the second time in eight days that the Tommies rallied to tie the score with less than three minutes to go in regulation and then won in two overtimes. "We stayed relatively calm in a high-anxiety situation, and that paid off."
Playing in blustery winds, Benedictine grabbed a 1-0 lead 10 minutes into the first half. Lowery said the Tommies failed to generate much offense in the opening 45 minutes, "but we settled the guys down for the second half and refocused our efforts."
Elliehausen's tying header from 18 yards at the 86:52 mark came off an Evan Potter pass. In overtime, Lowery went with four forwards instead of the traditional three because 'it was time to empty the cupboards and just go for it. It was kind of risky because it left us vulnerable defensively," he said, "but we thought it was the right move."
The Tommies got the winner 44 seconds into the second overtime. Elliehausen sent a cross to the left side and Oliver converted into an open left side of the net from 30 feet. Pierce Erickson picked up an assist.

Benedictine finished with 12 shots, four shots on goal and eight corner kicks to 10, six and two for the Tommies. Goalie Aidan Hogan picked up his 12th win and has allowed just three goals this season.

In Redlands, the Tommies will face a California team riding the high of an upset win over Chicago. The Bulldogs never trailed, holding leads of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-1 before Chicago scored a goal with 14 minutes to go to trail 3-2.

Lowery finds himself continually adjusting his team's goals for the season. The original goal was to win the MIAC regular-season and playoff titles, thus qualifying for the NCAA playoffs.

"Later it the season, we thought we needed to raise the bar on our goals," he said. "We said, 'Let's get to the Sweet 16, and if we can win there, anything can happen."

Tommie Notes

• This is the sixth NCAA playoff trip for the Tommies, who are 5-5 all-time. The only other time they made the Sweet 16 round was in 1990.

• Lowery will coach his 100th game at St. Thomas on Sunday. His record is 61-25-13 in four years.

• The Tommies have a school-record 16 shutouts this year and have outscored opponents 37-9, including 18-3 in the first half.