Despite a heroic effort from senior goalkeeper Owen Finnerty, the sixth-seeded Michigan State men's soccer team (6-8-2) lost 1-0 in demoralizing fashion to the third-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes (9-2-5) on a picturesque November night at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.
A second round berth was on the line as fans from both sides filled out the stands for the showdown.
Early on, the Buckeyes controlled the majority of the possession, peppering Finnerty with seven shots.
Sophomore midfielder Joakim Jahnsen led the way with two shots for OSU, while five of his teammates finished the half with one a piece, but Finnerty stood strong.
Finnerty, who was named to All-Big Ten Second Team Friday afternoon, finished the half with three saves, including an athletic diving save right after denying a two-on-one opportunity from OSU.
The Spartans had some chances in the first 45 minutes, but they could not manage to force a save from Buckeye senior goalkeeper Keagan McLaughlin.
Just two shots were recorded from the Spartans, with one coming from junior defender Elijah Howe while the other came off the boot of the Big Ten Co-Freshman of the Year, forward Jonathan Stout. Neither of the attempts got behind McLaughin though.
The Buckeyes played a very physical half, recording eight fouls to only the Spartans two.
More of the same commenced in the first 15 minutes of the second half.
MSU was moving the ball pretty well, forcing McLaughlin to make his first save of the night early on, but OSU kept attacking Finnerty to no avail.
Finnerty made another notable stop with some help from the left woodwork after he stuck his mit out there to deflect the shot.
MSU came out much more physical in the first half of the second stanza, racking up five fouls in that time compared to OSU's two.
OSU continued to knock on Finnerty's door deep into the final 45, but he continued to deny the Buckeyes. He made another quality, diving stop in the 77th minute to keep his team in the game and with five saves.
McLaughlin made a clutch save in the final 10 minutes to keep the Spartan's score at nil for the rest of the match. Fellow All-Big Ten freshman teamer forward Jake Spadafora recorded the shot on goal.
In the dwindling seconds, OSU's redshirt senior forward Devyn Etling finally got one past Finnerty. He was assisted by junior midfielder Parker Grinstead and senior midfielder Brayden Durbin. That goal was all she wrote for the Spartans.
Head Men's Soccer Coach Damon Rensing's Thoughts
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Despite the late goal allowed, Rensing thought his team gave an incredible effort throughout the game.
“I thought it was a heck of an effort from our guys,” Rensing said. “Everybody gave everything they absolutely could. We had our chances. Obviously, Ohio State had some chances. It was just a great college soccer game and came down to one play and credit to Etling, he made a nice play. He's a senior and he's playing like a senior. I am so proud of our guys and the effort that they gave and they made me a very proud soccer coach.”
Rensing then went on to commend Finnerty for a quality performance.
“Owen was awesome,” Rensing said. “Statistically, he wasn't as high with some of the goals but for my money, he's the best goalie in the Big Ten. Obviously, McLaughlin here was first team and he was good too, but Owen was unbelievable. And he's been like that all year. And we're fortunate to have despite what happens next.”
With the win, Ohio State will move on to the second round to face Rutgers, who defeated Wisconsin in penalty kicks.
For the Spartans, the future looks bleak, but whatever happens, Rensing said he will be proud of his seniors.
“I'm really proud of the seniors, they've given a lot,” Rensing said. “You look at what they've had to go through the last four years with COVID and just different injuries and they've all had their own journeys through this process. And they've always done things the right way. They've handled themselves with integrity and character. And they've been good role models for our young Spartans and so I am very proud of the seniors.”
MSU will have to wait about two weeks to see how the NCAA Tournament Committee will decide its fate.
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