AKRON, Ohio – University of Akron sophomore Stuart Holthusen (Auckland, New Zealand) registered a pair of goals and junior Adam Najem (Clifton, N.J.) added another to direct the fourth-ranked Zips (14-3-2) to a 3-2 victory over West Virginia (7-12) in the semifinals of the Mid-American Conference Championship on Friday, Nov. 13, at FirstEnergy Stadium – Cub Cadet Field.
The triumph pushed Akron into the championship game for the fourth consecutive year and earned the Zips a date with Buffalo, who edged Western Michigan in overtime, 3-2, on Sunday, Nov. 15, at 1 p.m. at FirstEnergy Stadium – Cub Cadet Field. Akron will go in search of its 12th MAC Championship title and 30th NCAA Tournament appearance when it battles the Bulls.
The Mountaineers outshot Akron in the affair, 15-13, including 9-5 on goal.
Holthusen directed the Zips' offensive attack with a game-high five shots, while adding four, two and two shots, respectively, was Najem, sophomore Richie Laryea (Toronto, Ontario (Canada)) and redshirt sophomore Sam Gainford (Liverpool, England). Zak Leedom led West Virginia with a team-high four shots, including three on frame, while Jamie Merriam added three strikes.
Senior Jake Fenlason (San Diego, Calif.) pulled in seven saves for the Zips, while corralling two saves for the Mountaineers was Alec Boerner.
Najem opened the scoring in the affair registering his team-leading ninth goal of the season at the 22:23 mark. Najem served a free kick from just outside the box into the corner of the net to give Akron an early 1-0 advantage. The scoring play was set-up by a long strike from Fenlason that soared over the West Virginia defensive line and to Gainford, who was taken down on a sliding tackle just outside the box by Boerner, who was issued a yellow card on the play.
The Zips carried the 1-0 lead into the intermission on the strength of outshooting the Mountaineers in the initial stanza, 8-6.
Holthusen netted what proved to be the game-winning tally in the 49th minute (48:58) collecting a ball served into the middle by Najem and delivering a strike from the top of the box past Boerner for his fourth goal on the campaign.
The Mountaineers got on the board at the 67:48 mark when a ball served into the box by West Virginia was accidently headed into the goal by an Akron defender for an own goal.
Five seconds later at the 67:53 mark off the restart off the goal, Holthusen registered his second goal of the evening to extend the Zips' lead to 3-1. The tally gave Holthusen back-to-back two-goal games after his two-goal explosion versus Bowling Green last Saturday, Nov. 7.
Merriam rounded out the scoring finding the back of the net in the 72nd minute (71:17) off an assist from Mike Desiderio to bring West Virginia to within one, 3-2.
The Zips locked down defensively to secure a berth in the championship game of the MAC Championship on Sunday, Nov. 15, at 1 p.m.