SAINT LEO, Fla. – The Saint Leo University men’s soccer team lives to play another day as they opened up the Sunshine State Conference Soccer Championships on Tuesday with a 3-1 drubbing of Nova Southeastern University in the quarterfinal round of the tournament from University Field. The third-seeded Lions (10-6-1) now move on to face second-seeded Tampa in Boca Raton on Friday.
This was the second time in less than a week that the Lions downed the visiting Sharks (10-9-1) by a 3-1 final as SLU concluded their regular season with a two-goal triumph last Wednesday.
Lion fans hadn’t settled into their seats before Saint Leo senior Eusebio Montoya deposited one of his two goals on the night in the sixth minute when he received a pass from Jonathan Glenn, who was standing at the top of the box. Montoya took the pass in stride, dribbled around one defender and then blasted it into the center of the net, beating a diving Juan Vizcarrando for the match’s first goal.
Montoya struck again eight minutes later as he single-handedly beat nearly the entire Shark defense. He picked up possession on the left-side of the penalty area, dribbled around some defenders until he was directly in front of the face of the goal, then he launched a laser toward the net. It was headed toward the far post at top-speed before glancing off of a Nova Southeastern player’s leg, the slight redirection enough to put it in goal.
Senior Brandon Whitsett increased the margin to three when he took advantage of an NSU foul just outside of the penalty area. The foul was called on Nova when Montoya, holding the Lions’ possession, was yanked down directly in front of the box. The head referee indicated a free kick for SLU and Whitsett stepped up, surveyed the pitch, and bent it just inside the upper 90 in impressive fashion.
After that goal, Joel Harrison’s team was content to sit back and play strong defense, withstanding the select attacks that the visitors from Ft. Lauderdale continued to send their way.
The Lions strategically managed the shutout deep into the second half, even seeing an NSU player sent-off in the 77th minute for dangerous play, forcing Nova to play with only 10 men for the remainder. The only error of the contest for Saint Leo came in the 86th minute when the Lions’ defense, four minutes away from a clean sheet, misplayed an errant Nova Southeastern pass, scoring their fourth goal of the night as an own-goal into their net.
Saint Leo goalkeeper Griffin Pharr, only surrendering that one goal, had one of the better matches of his season as he made six saves and saw 12 shots total. Vizarrando and NSU substitute ‘keeper Jonathan Dominguez combined to make five saves of the eight shots on goal they faced.
The Lions finish off their home schedule undefeated in the friendly confines of University Field. SLU finishes 9-0 in 2008 when playing at home, but are just 1-6-1 on the road. Neither of those records matter in their next contest as Saint Leo will travel to tournament host and top-seed Lynn University where they will face the Spartans on the neutral field Friday at 11:00 a.m.
The day’s other match will feature fourth-seed Eckerd College, who also opened up play tonight with a 2-0 win over Barry, squaring off against the top-seeded Fighting Knights at 2:30 p.m.
Both semifinal round matches feature lower seeds who defeated their higher-seeded counterparts in the regular season as Eckerd upset Lynn 2-1 in October. The Fighting Knights were undefeated and the nation’s top-ranked team at the time.
Saint Leo opened up Sunshine State Conference play in September when they welcomed UT, ranked 25th in the nation at the time, to the Saint Leo campus. The Lions defeated Tampa 3-1 behind a two-goal night from Glenn.
The 11:00 a.m. match from Boca Raton will be broadcast live on the Saint Leo Lions AudioCast with a special video feed courtesy of Lynn University. Information on how to access the feed will be provided on SaintLeoLions.com.