WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. – Senior defender R.J. Allen (Old Bridge, N.J./St. Joseph’s) scored on a penalty kick in the 77th minute Sunday afternoon on The Great Lawn to give the Monmouth men’s soccer team a 1-0 victory over Mount St. Mary’s and a share of the Hawks’ seventh straight Northeast Conference Regular Season Championship. The win also signified the 100th victory in the eight-year tenure of Monmouth Head Coach Robert McCourt. The Hawks (13-5, 7-3 NEC) move on to the NEC Tournament Semifinals as the No. 3 seed to face fellow tri-champion and second-seeded Central Connecticut (10-8, 7-3 NEC) on Friday at a time to be determined. By virtue of both the three-way and head-to-head tiebreakers, Sacred Heart has earned the right to host this year’s tournament.
“I’m really proud of this group of young men,” said McCourt. “They faced a lot of adversity this year and found a way to win another NEC Championship. We still feel like we have a lot of soccer ahead of us and we’re excited about the opportunity to play for a berth in the NCAA Tournament. There is tremendous character in our locker room. The guys are raring to go in the NEC Tournament.”
With an NCAA Division I RPI of 39 entering the week, the Hawks have positioned themselves in contention for a possible at-large berth, should they fall in the NEC Tournament Championship.
After freshman Kalle Sotka (Helsinki, Finland/Makelanrinteen Sports) was taken down inside the 18-yard box in the 77th minute, Allen went low to the left to beat Mount St. Mary’s goalkeeper Peter Steve for the game-winning penalty kick goal.
The Hawks previously had manufactured several scoring opportunities that Steve, the Mountaineers’ defense and the crossbar would narrowly negate. During one flurry in the second half, the Hawks hit the crossbar three times inside of a minute and six seconds. After Sotka clanged a shot squarely off the crossbar off a beautiful George Caiella (Pittstown, N.J./Seton Hall Prep) cross from the right corner, Matt Jeffery (Freehold, N.J./Freehold Township) sent a header into the crossbar. Moments later, Erkko Puranen (Viitasaari, Finland/Volonmaan Lukio [URI]) put a shot on net, but a Mount St. Mary’s defender just got a piece of it to send it high enough to once again harmlessly catch the crossbar.
Monmouth goalkeeper Alex Blackburn (Natick, Mass./Natick) made two saves to preserve the Hawks’ 12th clean sheet of the season. The Hawks, who entered the week third in the nation in shutout percentage, upped their percentage to .667 (12-of-18). Steve made four saves in defeat for the Mountaineers.
For the game, the Hawks outshot the Mountaineers, 14-6, and took six corner kicks to the Mount’s two.