Despite its school-record 11th shutout of the season, Valparaiso couldn’t find a goal of its own in the second semifinal of the 2011 Horizon League Championship Friday evening at Brown Field as the game went through two overtimes at 0-0, and sixth-seeded Loyola eventually won a seven-round shootout by a 5-4 score to advance to Sunday’s championship match.
“I’m really disappointed for our guys tonight because I thought we played well,” said Crusader head coach Mike Avery. “We dominated all the stats and had most of the ball on the night. But the name of the game is to score goals, and we weren't able to do that. You have to give Loyola part of the credit for that; their goalkeeper had a great night, and their back four played very well, bending a lot but not breaking. I’m certainly proud of the performance that we put on, because I thought we had a game representative of the season we had. With Zobeck and the back four getting another shutout, and us controlling almost every aspect of the game, I thought it was a pretty good performance on our part.”
Valparaiso (9-6-5) dominated the first half, attempting nine shots to just one for Loyola and earning five corner kicks to the Ramblers’ one. Rambler goalkeeper Peter McKeown made two saves in the first 45 minutes, while Crusader netminder Kyle Zobeck (Coralville, Iowa/Iowa City West) stopped one shot in the opening period. Then, in the second half, Valpo held a 9-2 shot advantage, forcing McKeown to make four saves, while the Rambler back line also earned a team save as well.
The Crusaders’ dominance of the game continued through extra time, as Loyola got off just one shot attempt in the extra 20 minutes of play. Valpo attempted three shots, all in the second overtime session, and Guy Shabtay (Ramat-Gan, Israel/Blich [Prairie State C.C.]) put a shot on frame in the 108th minute which McKeown saved to send the game into penalty kicks.
Loyola (6-11-2) pulled ahead early in the penalty kick shootout, as the Crusaders’ first two attempts failed to find the net. Jaymie Bullard (Naperville, Ill./Neuqua Valley) came through with a key goal in the third round to pull Valpo within 2-1, and after both teams failed on their tries in the fourth round, a miss by Loyola in the fifth gave the Crusaders the chance to force the shootout into sudden death.
Stefan Antonijevic (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Stevenson [College of Lake County/Marquette]) stepped up and calmly chipped the ball into the net to keep the penalty kicks rolling. Both teams were successful on their efforts in the sixth and seventh rounds, with Shabtay and Gerardo Avelar (San Salvador, El Salvador/Colegio San Francisco) scoring for the Crusaders. Tanner Nebbia scored in the eighth round for the Ramblers, which would prove to be the winning marker, as Valpo’s attempt was saved by McKeown.
“You get to penalty kicks, and it's a coin toss really,” said Avery. “You have to give [McKeown] credit, because he made some key saves during the shootout. Loyola gets to advance and we wish them luck. They've turned their season around recently, and I think their coaches and players deserve a lot of credit for that.”
Zobeck made two saves to earn his 11th clean sheet of the season, a mark which stands alone atop the Crusader single-season record book, and also surpassed Ryan Schwarz’s career record with his 18th career shutout on Friday night. The Crusaders, who gave up just four shot attempts to Loyola, also set a new team single-season record by surrendering just 14 goals on the year.
“The hardest part of a game like this isn't necessarily not advancing to the final, but having to say goodbye to such a tremendous senior class,” said Avery. “With everything they've accomplished in their careers here, they've set a new standard for Valparaiso soccer and we're going to miss them a lot.”
In Friday’s other semifinal, second-seeded Wright State defeated fourth-seeded Green Bay 2-1 to advance to the championship match. Valpo will host the title game at Brown Field on Sunday at 1 p.m. between Wright State and Loyola, with the winner advancing to the NCAA Tournament. The game can be seen live on the Horizon League Network, with live video and live stats links available through www.valpoathletics.com.