BETHLEHEM, Pa. — For the third time in program history, the Lehigh men's soccer team has won the Patriot League Men's Soccer Championship, defeating rival Lafayette, 1-0 Saturday night at the Ulrich Sports Complex in front of a packed crowd of 1,705 people. After finishing the regular season with an unblemished 6-0-3 record, the Mountain Hawks head into the NCAA Tournament with an overall record of 13-4-3, the team's most wins since 2015 when they won the title for the second time.
"I'm so happy for the team, certainly they have earned the privilege of being here and they earned the win tonight," said head coach Dean Koski. "I couldn't be happier for them, this is a once in a lifetime experience for a lot of these guys and it secures their legacy of certainly one of the best seasons we've had since I've been here."
The Mountain Hawks had the first five shots of the game including a Stevo Bednarsky shot in the sixth minute that was saved by Alex Sutton. Natan Rosen had his shot saved in the 27th minute and Josh Luchini had a shot that was saved in the 34th minute. Two more shots went high in the final six minutes and Lehigh finished the first half with a 10-5 advantage in shots. Will Smith made three key saves in the first half to keep the score knotted at zero after the first 45 minutes.
Coming right out of the locker room the Mountain Hawks had two shots early before the chance of the game occurred. Sophomore forward Michael Tahiru was the game's hero early on with his game-winning goal in the 54th minute, off a great pass from Trevor Koski that found the back of the net, giving the Mountain Hawks a 1-0 lead. Tahiru's goal was his third of the season and Koski's assist was his fifth of the year.
The Mountain Hawks tallied four shots in the rest of the second half with a Trevor Koski shot that was saved by Sutton in the 78th minute, but the story of the half was Lehigh's defense and stellar goalkeeping from Smith that kept the Leopards away from the net.
Smith saved Dylan Royalty's chance in the 77th minute and made saves in the 83rd and 86th minutes to keep the score at 1-0. Off a corner kick in the 89th minute, Justin Scharf made a huge play, getting the team save on Lafayette's best scoring chance of the night. Yiannis Panayides had a chance with 16 seconds left, but his shot went high and that ended the threat and gave Lehigh its third championship in program history.
"This is a season we will reflect back upon years from now and say that this was a special season," said Koski. "But I also want to make sure we ground ourselves again because we want to do something in the NCAA Tournament.
"It's a matter of celebrating and enjoying the moment, the players should, they've worked hard for this. It was our most important goal in the preseason and it's my job and the coaches job now to make sure that come tomorrow, we're back at it."
The Mountain Hawks led in overall shots, 18-13 with six shots on goal. Luchini led the way with five shots including one on goal, while Rosen and Tahiru both had three shots, Bednarsky added two, while five other players had a shot each.
Senior goalkeeper Will Smith made six saves en route to his career-best 10th shutout of the season, the 25th of his career.
83' | SAVE OF THE YEAR. Will Smith is the best goalkeeper in the Patriot League and shows it again here. Watch: https://t.co/7jRjNNurJY. #GoLehigh #PLTop3 #SCTop10 #PatriotChamps pic.twitter.com/tLCOjDlkO8— Lehigh Men's Soccer (@LehighMSoccer) November 17, 2019
The biggest advantage for Lehigh on Saturday night was the crowd, the unofficially largest men's soccer crowd in the history of the program. At 1,705 people, it was the most since Lehigh's NCAA Tournament matchup vs. Rhode Island.
"I don't think I've experienced this kind of energy since 2006 against URI in the tournament," Koski said. "The fans were great, I know our players felt it, they were inspired by it. I think it's wonderful when we can fill the stadium and have that kind of noise, so I think it really helped us."
Smith was named the Patriot League Tournament MVP and a member of the All-Tournament team for his performances, registering a pair of 1-0 shutouts between the semifinal and final matchups. Tahiru, Bednarsky and Koski were also named to the All-Tournament team at the conclusion of the game.
The NCAA Tournament selection show is set for Monday at 1 p.m. The Mountain Hawks are an automatic qualifier into the tourney and will participate for the fifth time in program history. More details to come on the upcoming schedule.
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