PORTSMOUTH, Ohio – The Shawnee State men’s soccer team battled back from a 2-0 deficit in the first half of play against Cumberland (Tenn.) by using a Martyn Sayer goal less than two minutes into the second half and obtaining a gritty effort from its backline.
However, an opportunity for Sayer to convert his sixth penalty kick of the year off of a Bulldog handball just missed its mark, and Cumberland held from there as the Bulldogs denied the Bears from extending their season another day as Shawnee State fell to Cumberland by a 2-1 tally in the Mid-South Conference Quarterfinals at Lovers Lane Park in Bowling Green, Ky. on Thursday evening.
During the first half, the Bears (6-13) would be outshot by the Bulldogs (16-1) – who came into the contest ranked as the No. 14-ranked team in the NAIA – by a fairly significant margin as Cumberland took six shots in the first 32:30 of the contest alone, obtaining goals from Marty Owens and Josh Armstrong to grab a 2-0 halftime lead.
The Bears, however, would make sure that the Bulldogs didn’t have the same path in the second half. Within the first two minutes of the second half, Matyas Krivan found himself with space to operate and launched a shot from the right side of the penalty box, where Bennet Strutz seemed to be there for the stop.
However, the ball slipped past Strutz and died on the goalie line, where a hard-charging Sayer – running full speed ahead – blasted the ball from point-blank range to put Shawnee State within a goal at a 2-1 count.
That aforementioned goal seemed to give the Bears the spark that they needed, as the backline of Ben Pulsford, Aaron Mazurkiewicz, Dylan Stevens, and Cody Hartong made life much more difficult for the Cumberland offensive attack as the Bulldogs attempted just four shots from the beginning of the second half to the 82nd minute – including just a single blast after the 58th minute during the same stretch – as Shawnee State put the clamps on the Cumberland offensive attack.
During this point, the Bears would try to get their attack going as Shawnee State would get two separate shot attempts off via Joe Lamont in the 58th and 59th minutes of action. However, both of Lamont’s attempts wouldn’t reach the goal as the Bulldogs maintained a 2-1 lead.
In the 81st minute, the Bears would have a chance to strike in the most critical point of the contest as Matyas Krivan’s shot was touched by the Cumberland (Tenn.) defense inside the penalty box.
The handball call allowed Sayer – who had been a perfect 5-of-5 on penalty kicks in setting a single season record up to that point – had a chance to not only break the career record with the penalty kick conversion, but give Shawnee State the goal that it desperately needed to send the contest to extra time.
If nothing else, the Liverpool, England native not only put a tremendous amount of effort into the kick, but the spot of the kick itself as Sayer put the ball on a rope toward the left side of the goal. Strutz, however, made an even better diving attempt, and as a result, the freshman goalkeeper was able to knock the ball away from the goal with both mitts.
From there, Shawnee State wouldn’t get another opportunity to tie the score, and in the 83rd minute, Elliot Goodwin would convert a pass from Armstrong to allow Cumberland to stretch the lead back out to a comfortable margin.
With the final game of the year in the books for the men’s soccer program, the Bears will graduate seven seniors from its program – Pulsford, Stevens, Dylan Whitehead, Chris Wiget, Avery Patton, Nick Dowdell, and Alex Tulley.
Pulsford, a native of Slough, England, officially tied the all-time mark for games played in a career, with 75. That mark ties former Shawnee State letterwinner Tanner Hopwood for the most in program history. Pulsford also stands alone as the program record-holder in games started for a career, with that total also being at 75 games.
With the victory, Cumberland will advance to the Mid-South Conference Semifinals, where the Bulldogs will play No. 2-seeded Lindsey Wilson.