EVANSVILLE, Ind. – The Ashland University men's soccer team saw its season come to an end in heartbreaking fashion on Thursday (Nov. 8) night as Saginaw Valley scored 38 seconds into overtime to escape with a 4-3 win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Strassweg Field.
The Eagles (8-10-3), who entered the tournament as the No. 6 seed in the Midwest Region, came back from 1-0 and 3-1 leads to force overtime only to have the No. 3-seed Cardinals (10-2-6) nab the winner.
"First, congratulations to Saginaw on the result and advancing," said third-year head coach Oliver Slawson. "We wish them good luck and hope they make a deep run at it representing the GLIAC."
Ashland, which ran through the GLIAC Tournament to earn the league's automatic bid, fell behind in the eighth minute on a goal by Michael Hamilton.
The Eagles have shown a penchant for coming back in games they fall behind early, especially late this season, once again displayed that prowess again.
Just 10 minutes later, sophomore George Brown sent in a diagonal cross that sophomore Yusuke Yasumasu headed down at the end line for sophomore Justin Libertowski, who coolly knocked in the equalizer.
The Cardinals went ahead again in the 25th minute on Hamilton's second goal before Alex Gloshen added SVSU's third goal in the 29th to give the Cardinals a 3-1 lead.
Ashland again countered with a response. Junior Andrew Pearson held a ball up and played it wide for Brown, who one-touched a cross to the back post where redshirt-freshman Kieran Paterson powered a header past Lukas Betz to cut the deficit in half. Paterson finished the season with six goals, including four in his last six games.
The Eagles went into halftime trailing by a 3-2 margin and the Cardinals holding a 10-6 advantage in shots.
In the second half, the Eagles were the dominant team, holding possession and getting the better of the chances. As the half wore on, Ashland continued to apply pressure as SVSU sank further into a defensive shell to see the game out.
AU capitalized in the 83rd minute after the Cardinals cleared a ball after a corner kick to sophomore keeper Dimitrios Karousos. He blasted the ball 60 yards upfield where Libertowski got on the end of it, touched the ball around the keeper and tapped it in for the equalizer and his GLIAC-leading 13th goal of the season. Karousos was credited with his first assist.
The Eagles had a few chances to get the winner in regulation, but the Cardinals hung on for the 3-3 tie after 90 minutes.
"We didn't lose anything tonight, we just ran out of time," Slawson said. "In the second half we were everything we needed to be. The result hurts because the guys care and for 45 minutes I think you really saw that. We had the league winners and nationally-ranked side completely on the ropes in the second half."
In the opening minute of the overtime period, Gloshen pounced on a ball in the box that took a couple deflections and knocked it into an open net, sending Saginaw Valley to the win.
The Eagles have undertaken quite a journey in three seasons. The program was shut down for three years following the 2012 season and was re-started in December 2015 with competition beginning just eight months later.
"Saginaw have had more consecutive NCAA tournament appearances than we've had an actual program," Slawson said. "I think that tells you all you need to know about what we have accomplished this season, specifically the second half of the year."
Ashland was 6-1-2 in its last eight games against GLIAC teams, including the regular season and postseason, after starting 2-8-1.
The Eagles now have a GLIAC Tournament title and their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010 under their belt. Ashland will graduate no seniors from this year's squad as the future continues to look bright.
"That's the scary thing. We didn't have one senior on the field," said Slawson. "We are also nowhere near what we can be as a program. I hope we can be in a position where today, playing at this stage of the season, is the norm as things that are needed become available; to sustain, evolve and develop what has been created as Ashland soccer in these foundational years. I am proud of the players and everyone involved in the program with what we did this season. We can and will use tonight to fuel what we can become as a program."