ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The No. 25 New Mexico Lobos closed out the regular-season campaign with a confidence-boosting 2-1 victory over the South Carolina Gamecocks on Senior Night at the UNM Soccer Complex. Despite a Gamecock’s headed goal on 77 minutes, James Rogers spot-kick and Chris Wehan’s curling effort inside the opening 20 minutes were the difference between the sides in front of a strong crowd of 1,450 fans.
“(South Carolina) made it difficult tonight,” head coach Jeremy Fishbein said. “Against a team like that you have to take care of the ball. … I was real proud of our guys. There were some nerves going in because it was a big game. It was important to get that (win) under the belt and send the seniors out in style.”
The Lobos (11-5-1, 4-4-0) were in front with the game’s first opportunity, as an adjudged handball inside the area led to the referee pointing straight to the spot. Rogers’ resultant penalty kick in the seventh minute was coolly buried into the right hand corner for his fourth of the season. It was also his 22nd career goal for the Lobo’s, putting him into a tie for senior eighth highest goal scorer in program history.
“It was fun that we actually came out and played well and as a team,” Rogers said. “We wanted to win this game. It was our last home game as seniors, and we got a good result.”
The lead was doubled 12 minutes later when Niko Hansen’s clever flick played Wehan through on goal with space on the right-hand side. The sophomore took full advantage of the space given to take a touch and curl his shot past helpless Gamecocks’ keeper Marco Velez for his ninth goal of the 2014 campaign.
Substitute Sam Gleadle very nearly put the encounter out of sight on 34 minutes. A deflected shot fell to the English-born midfielder unmarked at the back post, but his darting drive ricocheted against a wall of Gamecock bodies on the goal-line and away to safety.
The visitor’s most clinical opportunity came in the 35th minute from midfield’s Jeffrey Torda. After advancing forward from halfway, Torda took aim from 25-yards, but his deflected shot was parried onto the post by freshman keeper Jason Beaulieu.
The Lobos continued to assert their ascendency following the start of the second half. Rogers ran through the middle onto an inch-perfect through ball and slid around the out-running Gamecock keeper. After finding his feet Rogers shot off-balance and it fell unluckily into the side netting with the goal gaping.
The Gamecocks turned the last ten minutes of the encounter into a tense affair, finding the net with just their third shot on goal. From a South Carolina corner, forward Wesley Eads rose unchallenged at the far post to head into the base of the net for his first goal of the season on 77 minutes.
But the Lobos were able to dispel any last attack South Carolina could muster and held on for the victory.
“South Carolina was very good tonight,” Fishbein said. “But now we’re going to recover well, head to the conference tournament, and our plan is to win it.”
Rogers agreed with his head coach as the Lobos head to the Conference USA Tournament next week.
“This puts us in a good spot,” said Rogers. “It gives us confidence. I think we’re ready now to go play New Mexico soccer in the conference tournament and the NCAA Tournament. … Our expectation is nothing less than to win the conference tournament, and I know my teammates feel the same way. Hopefully it will happen that way.”
New Mexico (6:50): Rogers (PK)
New Mexico (18:06): Wehan (Hansen)
South Carolina (77:16): Eads (Turner)
New Mexico: Beaulieu (GK), Gibbons, McGovern, Miele, McKendry, Rogers, Fisher, Hansen, Wehan, Gurule, Dye
South Carolina: Velez (GK), Burnett, Kaba, Turner, Torda, Troyer, Dent Freiburger, Rittershaus, Addai, Knudsen
The Lobos will be the No. 5 seed in the Conference USA Tournament in Norfolk, Va. They will play either the host Old Dominion or UAB in their first game on Wednesday.