BILLINGS, MT – (SPUFalcons.com) Fittingly, the Falcons followed their familiar formula Saturday to capture the conference championship. They played stifling defense, got a sensational save from their goalkeeper and had somebody step up to score the game-winner.
Sean Russell‘s 65th-minute goal sparked a 1-0 win at Montana State Billings that clinched the Great Northwest Athletic Conference men’s soccer championship for second-ranked Seattle Pacific.
The Falcons (15-1-1) improved to 12-1-1 in league play to claim their first conference crown since 2006 when they shared the title with Seattle University. This 2014 triumph provides their first outright championship since the GNAC was formed in 2001.
“The team is really, really excited. To have our men’s soccer program win the first GNAC championship outright is pretty special,” said seventh-year coachMark Collings.
“These guys have competed so hard day-in and day-out and they’ve been consistent. To me that’s what championships show, that your team has been consistent. I’m proud of them for that and really excited for them.”
Stephen MacDonald (Phoenix, Ariz.) initiated the scoring play Saturday, picking up his team-leading seventh assist in the process. He served a pass to Danny Olivas (Phoenix, Ariz), who flicked it forward.
Russell (Seattle, Wash./Garfield HS) raced to the ball and first-timed a 17-yard shot toward the lower left corner that was tipped by goalkeeper Tom Lohmann on its way into the goal.
That was the fifth goal of the season for the senior forward, but his first since Sept. 27.
“It’s definitely sweet for him to get the game-winner and bring a championship back to SPU,” Collings exclaimed. “For Sean to get the game winner is really important to us as a team too. He hadn’t scored a goal in a few games, so to get him back on track is important.”
Twelve different Falcons have netted at least one goal this season and eight of those players notched a game-winning strike.
Russell nearly added an insurance goal on two occasions. His 16-yard try off a 52nd-minute corner kick traveled high, and a shot three minutes later caromed off the post.
SPU’s stingy defense preserved the one-goal lead, allowing just one Yellowjackets shot during the final 26 minutes.
MSUB’s most dangerous scoring opportunity came on a set piece in the 48th minute. Rhys Lambert’s free kick from just outside the box forced SPU goalkeeper Cody Langto make a diving save as it curled toward the goal.
Billings compiled a 5-1 shot advantage during the first half, but neither team put an attempt directly on goal.
The Falcons lone first-half shot was a 25-yard blast by Danny Olivas that carried over the crossbar in the 32nd minute.
Lang (Spokane, Wash./Lewis & Clark HS) was credited with one save en route to his ninth shutout.
Lohmann had one save for the Yellowjackets, who were outshot by a 12-8 margin.
That will be Senior Day for SPU as Russell and classmate Evan Robicheauwill be honored with a brief ceremony before the game.
“One of our first goals was to win a GNAC championship and we’ve done that,” Collings said. “Certainly we feel like we’re on track to get into the NCAA Tournament, which was another goal.
“Our next goal is to host a game in the tournament. That’s our next goal and we’ll try to end the regular season with a win over Saint Martin’s and give us the best opportunity to be a host in the NCAA Tournament.”
NCAA MEN’S SOCCER
Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014
Yellowjacket Field / Billings, Mont.
(#2) Seattle Pacific 1, at Montana State Billings 0
Shots – SPU 12, MSUB 8.
Saves – SPU 1 (Cody Lang), MSUB 1 (Tom Lohmann).
Corner Kicks – SPU 2, MSUB 7.
Fouls – SPU 14, MSUB 11.
Offsides – SPU 3, MSUB 0.
Seattle Pacific 15-1-1, 12-1-0 GNAC
Montana State Billings 6-8-3, 6-6-1 GNAC
Next SPU Men’s Game
Saint Martin’s at Seattle Pacific
Saturday, Nov. 8, 7:00 p.m. PDT
Interbay Stadium / Seattle, Wash.
goalWA.net Local Soccer News is sponsored by Pro Roofing Northwest, Kirkland, Bellevue, Seattle, Redmond, Woodinville, Federal Way, Everett, Snohomish, Issaquah, Renton, Kent, Bothell, Edmonds Washington roofing company.