Desperately holding onto the sixth seed with only two games left on its schedule, the Slippery Rock University men’s soccer team hit the road for a crucial battle West Chester on Saturday.
The Rams, a formidable opponent, were the only PSAC team to receive votes in the most recent United Soccer Coaches poll. Coming in, the playoff-bound hosts had yet to suffer a loss to a visitor and The Rock hadn’t won a road game. Unfortunately, that theme persisted, as SRU was turned home heartbroken, its chances for a postseason appearance made longer.
In the home net, Will Marshall stood as one of the country’s premier goalkeepers, ranked eighth in Division II save percentage. Overall, the hosts boasted a .543 goals against average and a .857 save percentage, well enough for ninth and fifth in the nation, respectively.
Marshall was tested three times in the first half. Seniors Devin Hoffman and Justin Minda each directed a shot at Marshall in the first half-hour. The Rock was denied for a third time when, in the 36th minute, sophomore midfielder Hector Buchter attempted to nod one home.
In the away net, SRU goalkeeper Matt Hunsberger entered the game leading the country in goalie minutes played, having stood between the pipes for 1,478 minutes in 16 games.
Four of West Chester’s first five shots were struck wide of the goalposts. Four minutes from halftime, the Rams’ Andrew Slater put the first, and only, dent in the scoreboard.
The early stages of the second half saw four shots on goal, three of them coming off the hooves of the Rams. As the game rolled on, a pair of later saves by Hunsberger kept the Green and White in the game.
In the final ten minutes, each Buchter, Ameer Caprini and Kenton Keeslar had opportunities to even the score, but understudy goalkeeper James Wood, subbed in for Marshall in the 64th minute, saved each.
Although Hunsberger recorded a career-high nine saves, they proved not to be enough. The 1-nil defeat was déjà vu for The Rock, as a nationally-ranked Rams squad visited last October and spoiled senior day by netting the winner in the 87th minute.
Because of the critical loss, Slippery Rock will need to win its senior day tilt against Shippensburg next Saturday and hope that Seton Hill trips up in its two remaining fixtures. Also, The Rock will need to overcome a five-goal difference in the second tiebreaker for determining PSAC playoff seeds.