Bills reach the Sweet 16

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The ghost of last year’s first-round loss to Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament nearly came back to haunt the Saint Louis University men’s soccer team last Sunday.

The No. 6 seeded Billikens found themselves with their back to the wall, down 1-0 with 35 minutes left in a second-round game against the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

But sophomore Brad Davis scored the game winner and assisted on another as SLU rallied to dismiss UMKC 2-1 before an announced crowd of 3,476 at Robert R. Hermann Stadium.

With the win, SLU advances to meet Loyola (Md.) in the Sweet 16 at 7:00 p.m. this Saturday at Robert R. Hermann Stadium.

“I really didn’t think at any point we were going to lose,” said coach Dan Donigan. “But I am proud of my guys. They kept their composure after falling behind and created a lot of opportunities. Give credit to UMKC; they’re a well-coached team that did a great job against our attack.”

Even though it was only the fourth time the two programs have ever met, familiarity loomed large in this intra-state battle. Not only did coach Rick Benben begin his playing days in St. Louis, but 13 players on his team also call the St. Louis area home. Eight SLU players are from the area.

“It was great to beat a bunch of guys I grew up playing with,” said senior and St. Louis native David Beck. “But it was even more gratifying to get the monkey off our back after last year’s disappointing loss.”

SLU set the tempo from the beginning by maintaining possession and picking the right times to attack.

Eight minutes in, Dipsy Selolwane’s 30-yard shot went over the crossbar. Less than one minute later, Mike Kirchoff made a nice run from his defensive midfield position to nail a left footer from 18 yards out. Kangaroo goalkeeper Beau Williams made the first of his nine saves. For the game, SLU out shot UMKC 19-5 and held a 7-4 advantage in corner kicks.

SLU nearly scored again 16 minutes into the game when Jack Jewsbury received the ball with his back to the goal, turned and rocketed a low liner from eight yards out. Williams came up big again. The junior keeper who finished the regular season with a 1.04 goals against average and six shutouts was the main reason UMKC remained in the game.

Neither team scored before halftime, but UMKC gained confidence with every scoreless minute played. In the 56th minute, the Kangaroos got their first chance of the game. They didn’t waste it. Larry Scheller made a nice run down the right side and placed a perfectly driven ball at the near post. Drew Perkins beat SLU defender Jason Cole to the ball and sneaked it past SLU goalie John Politis from four yards out to give UMKC a 1-0 lead.

When the pressure mounted, SLU played with a sense of urgency. Seven minutes later, SLU finally put one away. Cole flicked a Davis corner kick across the goalmouth to Kirchoff, who pounded it under the cross bar and into the top of the net, to even the score at 1-1.

“I was picking up the trash in front,” said Kirchoff. “Brad hit a great ball. It got knocked around and landed in front of me. I just hit it and ran.”

With less than seven minutes remaining, Davis netted the game winner. Dipsy made a perfect pass behind the defense to Davis, who had beat his man with a well-timed diagonal run. Davis pushed it past Williams, who had come off his line and calmly placed the ball into the upper part of the net from four yards out on the right side of the box.

The Kangaroos almost dumped out the Billikens, as Kentucky did last season, but in the end, Saint Louis was too strong.

“I think we played good,” said Benben. “But Saint Louis is a very good team.”

Tracking the Greyhounds

The dangerous Loyola College Greyhounds are up next for the Billikens. Don’t expect a walk in the park, however. The ninth-ranked Greyhounds (17-1-2) can play.

Loyola earned the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference’s (MAAC) automatic bid to the tourney after defeating Fairfield 1-0 in overtime in the league tournament title game.

Loyola advanced to meet SLU by beating familiar in-state foe Maryland 1-0 in double overtime last Sunday. Junior forward Juliano Adriano de Oliveira scored the game-winner in the 116th minute.

Loyola has won all five overtime games they’ve played this season. Since an Aug. 31 loss to California, Loyola hasn’t suffered a defeat in 19 games. And the Greyhounds know how to play in hostile conditions. Billikens beware: All but five of their games have been played on the road.

“They’ve beaten an always tough Maryland team twice this year,” Donigan said. “They’re going to be very organized and hard to break down. So we need to capitalize on the opportunities we do get.”

Niall Lepper, a junior defender from Scotland, leads Loyola. He was named MAAC Player of the Year after anchoring a defense that has recorded 11 shutouts. Goalkeeper Rob Beatty has also played an integral role in the back. He has posted a .52 goals against average, while also being named MAAC Goalkeeper of the Year.

“There are a lot of brave, young men playing for Loyola right now,” coach Mark Mettrick told the Baltimore Sun.

The Greyhounds will have to play Saturday without one of their brave young men. Starting midfielder Bill Law will miss the match for picking up a red card after last weekend’s game when he kicked the head of a Maryland player. With Law or not, Donigan feels confident.

“I’m more concerned with our team,” he said. “I know we’re capable of winning against anybody-if we play our game.”

Donigan noted that Wednesday’s practice was the best that they’ve had in a while.

“I’m really excited about the way our team looks,” he said.

The winner of Saturday night’s game will take on the winner of Portland and Stanford.