BETHLEHEM, Pa. — For the first time since 2015, the Lehigh men's soccer team is heading to the Patriot League Championship game. A timely chance that ping-ponged to the foot of Trevor Koski found the back of the net in the 76th minute and Lehigh held on to earn a 1-0 victory against Bucknell in the Patriot League semifinal round on a brisk, chilly night at the Ulrich Sports Complex on Tuesday night.
The win puts Lehigh in the title game for a chance to win its third Patriot League title in program history and for the first time since the magical 2015 season.
Lehigh led the Bison in shots throughout the first half of play, 6-3 with two shots on goal and two saves for the Bucknell keeper, Luke Smith.
Michael Tahiru tallied Lehigh's first shot in the sixth minute, a header that went wide of the net. Josh Luchini followed that up with a shot of his own that went high in the 14th minute and Natan Rosen had a shot that went wide in the 16th minute.
Bucknell had its first chance of the first half on a shot for Matt Thorsheim that was saved by Will Smith.
Between the 34th and 36th minutes, the Mountain Hawks registered two shots on goal, one from Luchini, the other from Rosen, but both were saved by Smith to keep the game scoreless heading into the break.
Bucknell came out of the locker room with more offensive mojo than the first half, tallying 15 total shots looking to get on the scoreboard and get the late go-ahead score.
Thorsheim started it off in the 48th minute with a shot that went high and Luchini answered back with a wide shot in the 49th minute. Will Smith made his first save of the second half in the 58th minute, also making a key stop on the 61st minute.
Tahiru had a good chance for the Mountain Hawks in the 62nd minute that was saved, and also had an attempt directly after that went high on a tight sequence.
The Bison had five shots in the next seven minutes against the Lehigh defense, but none went past the goal-line, though Smith made two more saves to add to his total for the night.
Everything changed in the 76th minute as Koski used a chance off a Tahiru corner kick that bounced off a couple of defenders and Koski finished it for the score, his fifth of the season. The goal broke the deadlock for most of the contest and gave the Mountain Hawks a crucial 1-0 advantage with just 14 minutes left on the clock.
"We really wanted to put a focus on getting shots on frame and I'm not sure we accomplished that compared to the last time we played them," said head coach Dean Koski. "Last game, we had seven shots goal, but we wanted to get good looks and I think our guys got some of those. You can't score if you don't put it on the frame so that's got to be our ultimate goal moving forward."
Desperate to create offense with a 1-0 deficit, Bucknell fired off seven shots in the final 14 minutes with two saves for Smith, but Lehigh came out with a 1-0 victory and a chance for immortality Saturday night in the Patriot League title game.
The Bison out-shot Lehigh, 18-15 during the course of the game with seven shots on goal to the Mountain Hawks' four. Will Smith made seven saves en route to his ninth shutout of the season and his 24th career shutout overall, putting him just two away from the Lehigh program record.
"Will certainly shows why he's the best keeper in the Patriot League," Koski said. "We needed Will to be strong in certain moments of the game and he was great tonight as he has been all season.
"If you're going to win a Patriot League Championship, you need a goalkeeper at Will's caliber and what Will can do so we need him to have one more game like this and hopefully we can celebrate that."
Both teams had multiple chances on corner kicks, with Lehigh leading the way at 8-6. One of those corners paid off for the Mountain Hawks, resulting in an eventual game-winning goal for Koski in the 76th minute.
Five Lehigh players registered a shot of some kind during the course of the game, with Josh Luchini leading with six. Both Tahiru and Ikem Mbalewe had three shots, Rosen added two and Koski had the only one he needed, a game-winner.
Top-seeded Lehigh will host No. 4 Lafayette Saturday night at the Ulrich Sports Complex at 6 p.m. in the Patriot League Championship Game with an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament hanging in the balance. The Leopards knocked off Loyola Maryland on Tuesday night, 0-0 (5-4, on PKs). This will be the first time since 2003 that the two rivals will have met in the title game. The Leopards won that game, 2-0 and took their 15th of a Patriot League-record 17 titles.
"The key to finishing the job is to continue to do what we've been doing all season and playing the way we've been playing, not making the moment bigger than it needs to be," said Koski. "We understand the importance of it, but we still need to go out and play soccer.
"No matter who we are playing on Saturday, we still have to play the way we've been playing all season. I don't see us changing anything, we can get some players healthy and back and playing, but ultimately we just have to make sure we're taking care of business the next few days."
Saturday's game will be streamed live on the Patriot League Network with coverage beginning at 6 p.m. Tickets for the championship game are on sale here or at the box office at Ulrich Sports Complex prior to the start of the game.
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