FAIRFIELD, Conn. – The third-seeded Monmouth University men’s soccer team connected on 4-of-5 penalty kicks to advance past Central Connecticut, 4-2, in a shootout in the NEC Tournament Semifinals, Friday afternoon on Fairfield University’s Lessing Field. With the result, the Hawks (13-5-1) advance to the NEC Tournament Championship Game against fourth-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson at 1 p.m. The Blue Devils end their season at 10-8-1.
“Derek scored a tremendous goal early to get us off to a good start,” said Monmouth Head Coach Robert McCourt. “I give Central credit. This is what happens in championship-level games. But I give our guys a lot of credit. Hard work, determination and experience playing in these type of matches got us through. We have tremendous character in our locker room. I’m extremely proud of our young men.”
Derek Luke (Bridgewater, N.J./Bridgewater-Raritan) got the scoring started in the fifth minute, firing a shot from atop the 18-yard box into the upper 90. Joseph Schmid (Kingston, Pa./Wyoming Valley [Villanova]) played the ball from the sideline, leading to Luke’s strong individual effort.
Ognen Stamenkovik countered in the 70th minute, getting a foot on Jessie Menzies’ corner kick, just a few yards off the goal line.
After two scoreless overtime periods, the game ended in a tie, but the teams lined up for a penalty kick shootout to decide which team would advance to Sunday’s championship game. Both RJ Allen (Old Bridge, N.J./St. Joseph’s) and Stamenkovik put the ball into the back of the net to start the shootout. Kalle Sotka’s (Helsinki, Finland/Makelanrinteen Sports) shot was saved by CCSU goalkeeper Anthony Occhialini, before Alex Blackburn (Natick, Mass./Natick) immediately stopped the bleeding by making the save on Reece Wilson’s try.
After Schmid fired a shot past Occhialini to give the Hawks a 2-1 edge, Manny Nobre countered with a successful PK to tie the score at 2-2. After Luke again put the Hawks ahead, Ben Walsh sent his attempt well high and left the score at 3-2 Monmouth. Anthony Vazquez (Belford, N.J./Middletown North [St. John’s]) ended the shootout with a successful try, leaving the Hawks up by two PK’s with only one attempt remaining for CCSU.
For the game, CCSU took a 13-8 advantage in shots and a 6-1 edge in corner kicks. Blackburn made five saves for the Hawks, while Occhialini countered with three saves.