CHICAGO, Ill. – Wright State prevailed in a penalty-kick shootout following a 1-1 draw with the Milwaukee men's soccer team Saturday night in the Horizon League Tournament Championship at Flames Field.
The Panthers (10-6-4) found the equalizer against the Raiders (11-8-2) early in the second half and had the better of the chances down the stretch, but fell victim to the shootout following a pair of scoreless overtime periods.
"It's heartbreaking. You know … 'almost' is all I can say," head coach Kris Kelderman said. "Huge effort from our guys, over the whole tournament. We had one outright loss in our last 11 games (6-1-4). As a coach, I could not be more proud of the group. They have done everything that I have asked. They fight for each other, they work very hard … it's very fulfilling when you see the improvement as the season went on."
Down, 1-0, at the break on a 28th-minute WSU goal, Paolo Gratton made it a new game at the 54:15 mark when he found himself on the end of a free kick from Vuk Latinovich. The ball passed through the goal front, flicked on by Evan Conway, with Gratton there to beat the keeper at the far post and draw level at 1-1.
That was where the scoreline stayed the rest of the night, with the Raiders eventually wrapping up a spot in the NCAA Tournament after converting a PK that gave them the 4-3 decision.
"The guys have really stepped up and dealt with pressure in an incredible way and it showed on our results as the season wound down," Kelderman said. "It was a very good performance against a very strong team. It was a great offense against a great defense and, unfortunately, we were one penalty kick away from advancing to the national tournament."
Milwaukee had the better of the opportunities down the stretch and in the overtime sessions, including a chance by Conway in the 95th. He was alone in the 6-yard box, but Joel Sundell was up to the task with a terrific save to keep play moving on.
At the end of regulation, Latinovich also had a free kick as time expired, blasting the 22-yard chance just wide of the right post.
Sundell came up with a huge moment just after intermission as well, making a spectacular diving stop of a Conway header in the 50th minute.
For the game, WSU held advantages of 24-to-16 in shots and 10-to-5 in shots on goal. Both teams finished with six corner kicks. Gratton ended the night with a team-high five shots.
Freddy Lorenzen came up big again, making seven saves. He came up with a huge stop in the 80th minute and got his hands on a blast from the wing in the 66th to send that quality look wide. His play in the tournament included a pair of shutouts, earning him a spot on the Horizon League All-Tournament Team, along with Conway and Latinovich.
The decision concludes the 2019 season at 10-6-4, including that 6-1-4 stretch to close out the campaign.
"That was exciting to see the guys come together as the season went on and played our best soccer in the most important games of the season," Kelderman added.
It also marks the final contest for seniors Conway, Josh Kaye and Ben Krolczyk.
"This week was a great experience for the guys, and I salute the three seniors," Kelderman said. "Evan, Josh and Ben have been three guys that really represented our program to the fullest. On the field, off the field, in the classroom, being leaders … just representing our program and the University."