Loyola got on the scoreboard in the sixth minute Thursday in Horizon League Championship first round action in Chicago, Ill. and never trailed, defeating Valparaiso, 4-1, ending the Crusaders’ season.
“I thought the two early goals changed the tone of the game,” said Crusader head coach Mike Avery. “However, I am proud of the fact we did not fold, and I thought we played well later on, especially after we went down a man.”
The Ramblers hooked up on a give-and-go early on to take the lead. Eric Gehrig fed Michael Ferguson in the middle, who immediately one-touched it back to Gehrig on the right side of the box. From about eight yards out, Gehrig unleashed a shot that eluded Crusader netminder Kyle Zobeck (Coralville, Iowa/Iowa City West), who had come out to cut down the angle, and hit the back of the net inside the far post.
The duo of Gehrig and Ferguson connected again for Loyola’s second tally in the 13th minute. Ferguson fed Gehrig in the middle of the field about 25 yards from the net, and Gehrig let fly with a hard, low line drive that snuck inside the left post.
The Ramblers added their third goal in the 23rd minute when Ferguson broke away down the middle of the field and beat Zobeck one-on-one. Andrew Stewart (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Stevenson) made a big play to save another Loyola tally late in the opening stanza, positioning himself perfectly on the goal line and using his body to stop a Rambler point-blank attempt.
Despite playing down a man after a red card early in the second half, Stewart initiated Valpo’s best scoring opportunity to that point in the game in the 57th minute, stealing the ball from a Loyola attacker, dribbling up the right side and feeding Kelvin Zelee (South Bend, Ind./John Adams [Indiana]), who turned to the inside, made a run and then threaded a pass to a sprinting Steve Shively (Indianapolis, Ind./North Central), who found himself one-on-one with Loyola goalkeeper Brian Byrne. But Shively’s low shot was directly at Byrne, who made the easy save.
Valpo would get on the scoreboard less than four minutes later, however, off of a free kick in the Loyola end. Ken Perkins (Cedar Rapids, Iowa/Kennedy) set up Paul Leitelt (Munster, Ind./Munster) in the middle of the field 30 yards from the frame and the senior let a laser go that found its way inside the right-hand post to pull the Crusaders back within two. Valpo had a number of other second-half chances, but Byrne scooped up a couple saves while other chances could not find their way on frame. Keum Sung Kim added an insurance tally in the 86th minute to close out the scoring.
Valparaiso (6-10-3) closes out one of the best defensive seasons in program history, giving up just 29 goals in its 19 matches, the fourth-lowest goals allowed in a single season all-time. Zobeck ends the year with a 1.47 GAA , setting a new single-season record for the lowest goals against average.