NEWPORT, R.I. (November 5, 2019) - Salve Regina University men's soccer advances to the 2019 Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) Championship Game after its 2-1 win over visiting Nichols College today at Toppa Field. The Seahawks (13-4-3) scored in the ninth minute as sophomore Rich Ventura (Floral Park, N.Y.) converted a cross from senior Dana Sundell (Nantucket, Mass.).
Ventura's fifth of the season held until Bison junior Ali Ali (West Springfield, Mass.) broke through for his fourth of the season in the 53rd minute to knot the score at 1-all.
Salve Regina fell back on its heels until a series of yellow cards were issued in the 58th, 63rd, and 68th minutes.
Bison goalkeeper Juan Carlos De La Cruz (Stamford, Conn.) punched a Seahawk header (No, not a yellow card infraction) by Dylan Sock (Newtown, Conn.) out of his goal in the 81st minute. The deflated Seahawks set up a corner kick immediately but their next shot did not come until nearly five minutes later.
The game-winning goal came courtesy of a feed from Ventura to junior Jacob Guerra (Colchester, Conn.) in the 87th minute. Ventura got the pass from Guerra in the middle and then poked it ahead for Guerra to finish off his sixth of the season (and first game-winner).
De La Cruz finished with six saves in his final game with the Bison (12-6-2). Salve Regina First Team All-CCC keeper and freshman Seth Wolins (Wake Forest, N.C.) stopped one shot while improving to 8-1-3 on the season.
The Seahawks advance to the conference championship for the second time under head coach Craig O'Rourke II, in his 13th season and enjoying back-to-back campaigns as CCC Coach of the Year. In 2012, Salve Regina defeated Nichols, 2-0, in the title match on Reynolds Field on the Newport campus, to advance to their second ever appearance in the NCAA Division III Championships (2002 was the first). The Seahawks improve to 23-8-2 all-time versus the Bison.
Quoting head coach Craig O'Rourke II:
"Post-season play is very different from your regular season matches. The fundamentals of the game remain the same and ultimately, you are still trying to score more than your opponent, but the emotions and atmosphere of the playoffs change the dynamic of the match. Today, there had to be a winner and because of that fact someone would see their season come to an end. I thought the game was somewhat disjointed at times … there were periods of play when we were able to execute and do the things that we have trained and talked about all year. Then there were segments where the emotions took over and both teams became highly reactive to every little clip or shove on the field. Nowhere is soccer defined as a non-contact sport, quite the opposite in reality. Teams that over-react to the little things and lose their focus on maintaining the possession, or executing their defensive shape and game plan, allow themselves to become vulnerable to a more disciplined or focused team effort. I thought once we regained sight of that – the disciplined, focused team effort – then we were able to take care of the ball and get back on the front-foot to create our scoring chances. The efforts of (Noah) Medeiros, Guerra, and especially Ventura were the real difference in the match. They refused to settle for anything but a victory today and powered us into the conference finals this Saturday."
The Seahawks will host the Gulls of Endicott College (3-1 semifinal winners over Wentworth this evening in Beverly, Mass.) on Saturday at 1 p.m. on the Toppa Field turf. The teams played a scoreless draw (0-0) on the same pitch on September 21. Four of the last six meetings between these two finalists have ended in ties, including the quarterfinal round of the 2014 CCC Championships with the Gulls advancing on PKs.