The Oglethorpe men's soccer team broke through with the second SAA championship and third overall conference title in their history on Sunday afternoon, beating the No. 2 seed Centre Colonels 2-1 in the SAA Men's Soccer Championship at the Oglethorpe Track and Field, and securing the SAA's automatic berth in the NCAA Division III tournament. It marks the first time in their history that the Stormy Petrels have won both the conference championship and the conference regular season crown in the same season, and will be the second time that the Oglethorpe men's soccer team has made an appearance in the NCAA tournament.
Junior forward Ryan Marcano earned SAA Tournament MVP honors after scoring in each of the team's victories this weekend. He scored the opening goal on Sunday in the 12th minute, and did the same in Friday night's 2-1 overtime win over Berry in the semifinals. He also notched two assists in the Petrels' 5-1 quarterfinal victory over Hendrix on Oct. 28. Senior defender Jordan Locke joined him on the SAA All-Tournament Team, proving vital in holding off Centre for a victory on Sunday while repeatedly coming up with big clearances in Friday's victory over Berry, as well.
The Petrels held a tenuous 2-1 lead after a Centre goal in the 71st minute, but the Oglethorpe defense played exceptionally well late, bolstered by outstanding performances from Locke and Oglethorpe senior goalkeeper Luke Whelan. Whelan finished the game with a season-high seven saves, while Locke made clearance after clearance while Centre was desperately looking for a late equalizer.
In the early going, the top-seeded Petrels jumped all over a Centre squad that is traditionally difficult to break down, picking up goals in the 12th and 32nd minutes. Marcano got the Petrels on the board with a redirection off an outstanding free kick from sophomore forward Gabriel Alvarez from the left side of goal. They were able to extend that 20 minutes later, as the Petrels won another free kick close to the penalty area, this one from the right side of goal. Junior midfielder Topher Marshall sent in a perfect ball that junior forward Devon Patterson redirected toward goal with an outstanding diving header, giving his team a 2-0 lead. The opening goal served as Marcano's 12th goal of the season, while the second goal went as Patterson's sixth.
The Petrels outshot Centre 7-5 in the opening half of play, and Whelan made the two-goal lead stand up into halftime with a fantastic sequence of saves in the 43rd minute, as he saved a shot from the Colonels' Noah Wesley-Chevalier and then quickly got up and stopped the follow-up shot from Harrison Dunn.
Oglethorpe appeared to have things in hand going into the second half. Centre outshot them 6-5 over the period, but Whelan was equal to the task with two more saves early in the period, and the Petrels maintained their two-goal advantage as the game moved into its final 20 minutes. However, the Colonels won a penalty kick in the 71st minute, and Wesley-Chevalier converted on it to make the score 2-1 and give his team life.
The Petrels used an outstanding defensive effort to neutralize Centre over the final 20 minutes, however, and won their second SAA tournament title in the process.
"We really took control of the match early, I thought, with a couple of outstanding goals from Ryan and Devon, and we had other chances in addition to those, so we could've been up even bigger going into halftime," said Oglethorpe head coach Jon Akin. "On the other side, Centre had a couple of good chances, too, and I thought Luke Whelan came up with some outstanding saves in key moments for our team. They got back into the game with the penalty kick, but down the stretch, I thought we got an outstanding effort defensively, and we really matched them in the air, which isn't an easy thing to do."
"It's really good to break through in tournament play," Akin continued. "We've been the best team in the conference each of the last three years, I think, and we've had the regular season titles to prove it, but we just couldn't break through in the tournament the past couple years. This was a big goal of ours from the beginning of the season, and its a credit to this group that they got it done."
The 16-2-1 Petrels, who have now extended their winning streak to 12 games and their unbeaten streak to 13 with this tournament run, will become just the second team in program history to head to the NCAA Division III tournament, and the first since the 2011 squad that won the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference championship. Oglethorpe will find out who they're playing and where they're headed at 1:30 p.m. Monday, when the NCAA Division III Men's Soccer Selection Show airs on NCAA.com. The Petrels will play on Saturday in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and if victorious, will immediately turn around and play in the second round on Sunday.