Oscar Lomeli (Jalisco, Mexico/ [Bethel (Ind.)]) scored his second goal of the season early in the second half, while Ryan Schwarz (Rockford, Ill./Boylan Catholic) made two stops for his second shutout of the season as Valparaiso sent seniors Sean McGinnis (Chicago, Ill./Barrington) and Tyler Pagano (Mundelein, Ill./Mundelein [UMass]) out winners one last time at Eastgate Field, downing Cleveland State 1-0.
“This was a good day for us, as we got the result we needed,” said Crusader head coach Mike Avery. “We knew it would be hard, playing our third game in a week with the first two going to double overtime. We had some tired legs and it wasn’t our cleanest game in terms of connecting, but our concentration was good and our shape defensively was good. Wed did what we had to do to get the win.”
The action in the first half was contested primarily in the midfield, as neither team earned much in the way of quality scoring chances. Cleveland State had a couple early shots on frame that Schwarz easily picked off, while Valpo’s best chance in the opening stanza came in the 35th minute. Steve Shively (Indianapolis, Ind./North Central) gained possession deep in the Cleveland State end, but his first shot was blocked by a defender and his second effort was stopped by Viking netminder Nick Harpel.
The Crusaders got the only goal they would need in the 53rd minute. Adrian Ortiz (Berwyn, Ill./Morton West) fed Ken Perkins (Cedar Rapids, Iowa/Kennedy), making a run from the midfield, on the left flank. Perkins then crossed the ball high into the box, where Lomeli out-jumped the defenders and flicked the ball with his head towards the far post. Lomeli’s header ricocheted off the inside portion of the post and found its way across the goal line for the game’s only marker. For Ortiz, it marks his seventh helper of the season, tied for second-most in a single campaign in Crusader history.
The Vikings would not threaten Valpo’s lead the rest of the way, getting just three shots off, none of which were on goal. Shively had a couple late chances stopped by Harpel, but it would not matter, as the Crusaders earned the victory in their final regular season match.
“Tyler and Sean have really been key components of this year’s team,” said Avery of his two seniors. “Tyler today showed why he’s the heart of this team with his effort, his commitment and his determination. He plays so hard because he so badly wants the team to win. Sean has been fantastic in his backup role for us. It’s not easy, especially being a senior, but his character is just tremendous. He’s willing to do whatever needs to be done for the team.”
Schwarz was forced to make just the two early saves to keep Cleveland State (3-13-2, 0-7-1 Horizon) off the board, posting the sixth clean sheet of his career, fourth-most all-time at Valpo. Schwarz and the Crusader defense have not allowed any goals in regulation time in the last four Horizon League matches, and allowed just one opponent among the eight League foes to score more than one goal this season.
“We knew coming into this season that in long-term program building, we would have to start with the back,” said Avery. “We’ve worked hard on our defensive shape all season with our back four and our block of eight, and the guys are really starting to gel with how that works. It was tough at first, as the guys had to transition from a different system last year, but we’re starting to show now that we’ve got a tight defensive unit that’s tough to play through.”
Valparaiso (4-10-3, 2-4-2 Horizon) earned the seventh seed in the upcoming Horizon League Championship with the victory, finishing two spots higher than projected in the preseason poll. The Crusaders will travel to Wright State to take on the Raiders in first round action next Friday, Nov. 9, at a time to be determined.