BETHLEHEM, Pa. — A Nick Jennings penalty kick goal in the 41st minute is all Lehigh men's soccer needed to secure the Patriot League victory over Loyola Maryland Saturday night at the Ulrich Sports Complex. The Greyhounds (5-7-0, 3-2-0 PL) may have out-shot the Mountain Hawks (8-3-1, 4-0-1 PL), 25-10, but the defense did its job and made sure Jennings' goal was the only one of the night. With the victory, Lehigh remains undefeated in Patriot League play and is now in a tie with No. 19 Navy in the league standings with 13 points.
"I thought the game went as I thought it would," said head coach Dean Koski. "We know that Loyola in exceptional going forward, I think that they have one of the best attacking groups in the league. So we knew we were going to have weather them in parts of the game and we did and I thought it was a good, collective effort by our backs and Will (Smith), just make sure that we bent, but didn't break.
"But I thought we were fortunate one or two times, we need those bounces, but we gotta move on. It's three points against one of the best teams in the league."
The Mountain Hawks started the offensive surge in the fifth minute behind a Natan Rosen shot that was blocked. That was the first of five shots in the first half, as freshman Euan Forrest tallied Lehigh's first shot on goal in the 31st minute that was saved by Chase Vosvick. Ikem Mbalewe followed up with a shot on goal of his own in the 33rd minute that was saved.
In the 41st minute, after Stevo Bednarsky was fouled inside the box, Nick Jennings was called upon to attempt Lehigh's second penalty in as many games. Jennings found the top left corner of the goal and dumped in his first goal of the season to give Lehigh a 1-0 lead. With the goal, the Mountain Hawks snapped their scoreless streak at 259 minutes dating back to the Bednarsky's game-winner in the 71st minute against Colgate on Oct. 2.
"We know Nicky would be our number one guy for taking penalty kicks," said Koski. "So we have confidence in him and a lot of guys to step up in that way."
After Nico Brown's shot went wide in the 43rd minute of the contest, Mbalewe had another attempt sail high in the 44th minute, concluding the half with Lehigh leading, 1-0. It was the ninth game this season in which the Brown and White registered the first goal of the game. Despite trailing on the scoreboard, Loyola went into the locker room winning the shots battle, 8-5.
The Mountain Hawks had a top level chance to make it 2-0 in the 46th minute right off the bat after Zarin Tuten's header chance was saved by Vosvick. In the 49th minute, Josh Luchini had two consecutive shots that were blocked and went wide, respectively, which followed up with a corner kick for Jennings. The Mountain Hawks had just two more chances to make a move in the second half when Trevor Koski's shot was blocked in the 58th minute and then Luchini had a shot that went wide in the 89th.
Five of the Greyhounds' 17 shots in the second half alone were on goal as senior goalkeeper Will Smith made a key save in the 88th minute from Davey Mason to keep Loyola off the board for the match. Smith ended up making seven saves, securing his fifth clean sheet of the year.
Individually, shots were spread pretty much evenly across the board for the Lehigh lineup, Luchini leading the way with three opportunities, while Mbalewe had two and Tuten, Koski, Jennings, Natan Rosen and Forrest each contributed one shot each.
The victory officially gives Lehigh a 4-3 lead in the all-time series against Loyola and upped the Mountain Hawks' league record in 2019 to 4-0-1.
Lehigh will turn its attention to another Ivy League opponent on Tuesday night at Princeton at 7:30 p.m. That will set up the battle for first place in the Patriot League next Saturday night at No. 19 Navy.
"Princeton is having a great year, I know that they are a well-coached team," Koski said. "It's going to be a good mid-week game against another good Ivy League program. We just need to make sure we are recovered and get ready for them and I'm excited for the opportunity to go out and play them."
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