Valparaiso got out to a strong start Sunday night at Brown Field against Wright State, scoring two goals within the first 20 minutes, and carried it throughout the match despite playing a man down the final 46 minutes, eventually earning a 3-1 victory over the Raiders in Horizon League action.
“I’m proud of our guys for their response to a tough loss on Friday,” said Crusader head coach Mike Avery. “Our guys came back on a quick turnaround after that loss, and I thought we played really well tonight.”
The Crusaders got on the board in the 8th minute on a play that started off innocuously enough, as Valpo was awarded a free kick at midfield. But sophomore Jonathon Smith (McKinney, Texas/McKinney) stepped up and sent a pinpoint service off the free kick into the middle of the six-yard box, a 55-yard ball in the air. On the other end of the play, 6’6” redshirt junior Stefan Antonijevic (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Stevenson [College of Lake County/Marquette]) did the rest, getting above the crowd of players in the box and heading it into the back of the net to put the Crusaders ahead.
“I thought that Stefan was terrific for us tonight,” said Avery. “When our attack is going through him, we're a very difficult team to play against, and he did a great job tonight, even beyond the goal, both offensively and defensively. I thought Jonathan had a good game as well; him and Stefan were our two best players tonight and it was fitting that it was the two of them who connected for our first goal.”
Another free kick added to the Crusader lead in the 20th minute, but this goal would come in a more direct manner. A foul just outside the box on the left flank created a free kick from 20 yards out, and junior Guy Shabtay (Ramat-Gan, Israel/Blich [Prairie State C.C.]) sent in a perfectly placed bending strike to the upper-left corner of the goal to push the Valpo advantage to 2-0.
It looked like Valpo would take that two-goal advantage into the locker room, but with less than two minutes remaining in the opening half, the Crusaders had a player issued the straight red card, leaving them down to 10 players for the remainder of the game. Wright State (4-4-0, 0-1-0 Horizon) took advantage in the 45th minute, as Angelo Capuano sent in a cross from the right that Justin Circle headed home to cut the Valpo lead in half at halftime.
But the Crusaders surely did not play like a side a man down in the second 45 minutes, maintaining the better of possession and out-shooting the Raiders 7-4 in the second half. Still, with just a one-goal edge, Valpo was looking for an insurance tally, one that eventually came in the 63rd minute. Senior Zack Stivers (Brownsburg, Ind./Brownsburg) was taken down from behind by WSU goalkeeper Corey Whisenhunt inside the box as the duo chased after a ball along the goal line, resulting in a penalty kick for the Crusaders. Stivers stepped up and calmly converted on the spot kick for his team-best third goal of the season.
“I thought we played very well even thought we played down a man for the whole second half,” said Avery. “I was disappointed in the lack of discipline to get the red card, but I thought the rest of our team really picked him up because we played very, very well from that point on.”
Valparaiso held a 14-8 advantage in the shots category over the 90 minutes of play and put six efforts on frame to the Raiders’ five. Fifth-year senior Ryan Schwarz (Rockford, Ill./Boylan Catholic) made four saves to earn his fifth victory of the season for the Crusaders, while Whisenhunt stopped three shots in the loss for Wright State.
Valparaiso (6-1-1, 1-1-0 Horizon) earned its first victory in nine attempts all-time against Wright State Sunday evening and got a key three points in league play. The Crusaders have another pair of Horizon League fixtures on tap next weekend on the road, starting with a 3 p.m. CDT match on Friday, October 1 at Butler. Live stats for the showdown with the Bulldogs will be available at www.valpoathletics.com.