On Nov. 8, Mercer faced off against East Tennessee State University in the Atlantic Sun Men’s soccer championship semifinals at the FGCU Soccer Complex. Mercer men’s soccer came out on top against all odds with a 4-2 penalty kick shootout.
Having won against ETSU, the bears advanced to the A-Sun Championship final for the eighth time in the program’s history and for the second time in the last four years.
In a recent interview, Brad Ruzzo reflected on the game’s result, “We knew this was going to be a tough game because ETSU has a great program and Scott Calabrese and his staff are great coaches.”
The A-Sun Coach of the Year continued, “I give our team credit though. They battled and fought and even played a man down for 15 minutes. I am tremendously proud of our team and the effort they put forth to get a result tonight.”
Mercer had their first real chance at gaining the lead in the 24th minute of the game when senior Richie Edmondson slipped past the ETSU defense and fired a left-footed shot that sailed just wide of the far post to keep the game at a neutral standing.
The game entered halftime tied at 0-0, but ETSU came out of the half dominating game play and nearly scored on a pair of chances. To Mercer’s favor, Mercer goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh valiantly defended the goal to maintain the 0-0 score.
The Buccaneers held possession of the ball and their offensive pressure managed to break through a gap in the Orange and Black’s defensive line in the 75th minute. This break through resulted in a deflection off a Mercer defender and into the back of the net to give ETSU a 1-0 lead.
The Bears came back fighting with a counterattack resulting in a goal just minutes later. Senior Josh Shutter served a free kick that Will Betts received and passed onto freshman David Murtaugh who obtained the goal in the 78th minute of game play to tie the game at 1-1.
For the rest of regulation gameplay, both teams had chances to take the lead. However, by the end of the 90 minutes, the score remained tied at 1-1.
In the 95th minute of overtime, Mercer received a red card which forced the Bears to play a man down for the last 15 minutes of play. Despite the advantage for ETSU, the Orange and Black kept the Buccaneers at bay; ultimately forcing the game into a penalty kick shootout.
ETSU’s man and Shutter were both good on their respective penalty kicks to keep things square through the first round. Ranjitsingh then came up big for the Bears, stopping the next two penalty kicks in rounds two and three, setting up sophomore Carl-Oscar Andersson who converted the game-winner in round four.
Betts and fellow senior Sharpe Sablon also converted their penalty kicks for the Bears, who went into mass hysteria and mobbed Andersson after he converted his penalty kick chance that sent Mercer into the finals.
Ranjitsingh made eight saves in the match for the Bears while ETSU goalkeeper Ryan Coulter stopped three shots in a losing effort.
Mercer played the winner of the other semifinal match between FGCU and Lipscomb in the 2012 A-Sun Championship final on Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m.
After winning their semifinal match, FGCU and Mercer met in the 2012 Atlantic Sun Championship title game where Mercer men’s soccer team battled into extra time, but eventually lost in overtime with the final score reading 1-0.
Mercer ended their season with an 11-7-2 overall record, its most wins in a single season since tallying 11 victories back in 2004.
The first quality chance of the match came from Mercer during the fourth minute of play when a corner kick by David Murtaugh went directly to teammate Will Betts, whose mid-air volley reflected off the post and back into play.
In the 32nd minute of play, the Bears had another scoring opportunity when junior Ryan King ran onto a free kick from midfield and got a diving header. Unfortunately, the ball was corralled by FGCU goalkeeper Nathan Ingham to keep the score null 0-0, going into halftime.
After halftime, the Bears had one more chance in regulation play, but Murtaugh’s turning pivot shot went just wide of the left post to keep the score tied at 0-0 after 90 minutes of gameplay.
For the second time in three days, both Mercer and FGCU faced an overtime scenario in the Atlantic Sun Championship. Unfortunately for the Bears, the Eagles prevailed and came out on top in the end. In the 95th minute of play, a cross shot was deflected past Ranjitsingh into the back of the net to give FGCU a 1-0 win and a second straight A-Sun Championship.
Shutter, Ranjitsingh, and Andersson were named to the All-Tournament team in postgame ceremonies.
This game was also the final collegiate contest for Betts, Shutter, and fellow seniors Richie Edmondson, Sharpe Sablon, Bryson Jones, and Vaughn Thomas.
Reflecting on the Bear’s season, Brad Ruzzo, fifth-year head coach says, “It’s very rare to have a season in which you come up just short of the ultimate team goal of making the NCAA Tournament and still feel satisfied and fulfilled with the way the year went.”
Despite losing in the Atlantic Sun Championship title game for the second time in the last four years, the positives and steps in the right directions out-weighed the heartbreak.
The Orange and Black finished the season with an 11-7-2 overall record and a 6-2 mark in conference play. The 11 wins the Bears received were the most in a single-season since 2004. Mercer was rewarded for their success by being ranked in the NSCAA South Regional poll for five weeks during the season, including a No. 6 ranking on the week of Oct. 2, the highest regional ranking in program history.
Mercer loses six seniors from this year’s squad in Shutter, Betts, Edmondson, Sablon, Thomas and forward Bryson Jones. However, the 2013 season looks just as promising with seven starters returning to Macon for Coach Ruzzo and the Bears to make another run at the program’s first Atlantic Sun Conference title since 2002.