On a windy Thursday afternoon, the MSU men's soccer team embarked on its sixth NCAA Tournament journey under head coach Damon Rensing. At the friendly confines of DeMartin Stadium, the Spartans tied Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, 1-1, but fell in an 11 round shootout thriller.
After a competitive back-and-forth in the first seven minutes, the first shot of the match came courtesy of sophomore forward Ryan Sierakowski. The blast from the underclassman was met by Cougars goaltender Kyle Del Santo, who knocked the ball away leading to a corner kick.
MSU wasn't able to capitalize on two corner kick chances as the Cougars' defense remained stout. In the early going, the Spartans weren't able to muster much on their offensive end of the field, but their defensive efforts kept the away team a chance to score.
With ten minutes left in the first half, the Spartans mounted a late push on the Cougars' side of the field. Junior midfielder Ken Krolicki got the second shot on goal that just sailed past the top of the net. Another Sierakowski shot on goal was denied again by Del Santo, preserving the scoreless tie.
The Spartans were finally able to break through the Cougar back in the 40th minute of the match. A long shot from junior midfielder Michael Marcantognini nestled into the upper corner of the net, besting a sprawling Del Santo. The goal put the Spartans up, 1-0, with just ticks left until halftime.
Heading into the second half, the Spartans were caring for a one-score lead. Only 45 minutes of gameplay separated MSU from a date with No. 15 Butler University in the next round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Cougars, though, felt the urgency of the elimination game, as their offensive efforts picked up. After producing a mere two shots in the opening half, 20 minutes into the second half, SIUE had pressured the MSU defense into three shots.
All of the Cougars' efforts paid off on the pitch in the 68th minute of the match, as midfielder Keegan McHugh netted the equalizer on a long shot. The kick came off a miscue as McHugh was able to take advantage and send the ball past junior goaltender Jimmy Hague in the upper-right corner.
With the score still deadlocked, MSU's best opportunity to inch ahead in the waning minutes was denied by Del Santo. A rebound in front of the net gave sophomore defenseman Connor Corrigan a great chance, but Del Santo was there for the save, an audible gasp heard from the supporters gathered at DeMartin.
Another MSU opportunity was for naught as Corrigan sent the ball high over the net, with nothing but a wide open net between him and a goal.
The heroics effort Del Santo and his stellar play had the two teams tied up and heading into overtime. The extra time would be played under sudden death rules, as a matchup against Butler was still up-for-grabs between the teams.
MSU appeared to have the game away as the ball crossed the line for a goal. But an offsides call gave the Cougars life as the Spartans were denied the go-ahead score.
With Sierakowski making a move down the pitch, he was fouled just outside the box, being awarded the free kick with just over a minute left. The shot, though, sailed over the top of the goal.
The match would head into a second overtime period of 10 minutes as the two teams were still knotted up, 1-1.
After a scoreless second overtime period, the match would be officially recorded as a tie. The team to face off against Butler in the next round would be the winner of the shootout period. The seasons between both teams hung in the balance.
In the five-round shootout, both the Cougars and Spartans missed one kick each to send it into sudden death. After going an extra six rounds, SIUE came out victorious after Sierakowski's shot sailed over the net. A Ledbetter shot just minutes later sealed the victory for the Cougars as they will face off against No. 15 Butler in the next round of the NCAA Tournament.
The match ends the MSU men's soccer teams season after finishing with a 13-5-2 record.
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