By Tyler Thornton, Staff Writer
There is only one way to describe Furman’s victory over Mercer in the SoCon tournament: dominating. COming off two straight 1-0 victories over VMI and Wofford to start the tournament, you would think that Furman was playing at top form. Yet, somehow, Furman found another level to their play for the finale. On the surface, seemingly little changed in the final match with Furman achieving yet another 1-0 victory. Still, saying this match was familiar would be disingenuous about the play on the field. Furman cam out to win and it showed in every aspect of their play.
The defense in particular was in top form, muting any play that began to develop on Furman’s side of the pitch. THe only blemishes defensively were the eight corner kicks Furman surrendered on the night, four coming in the closing minutes. Even then, the team proved up to the task of shutting the opposition down to the point where Furman goalkeeper, Sven Lissek, was not forced to make a singe save in the game.
On the other side of the field, Furman put together quite a few dangerous attacks including a long sustained attack newer the start of the second half. Though Mercer seemed unable to extinguish the run of attacking plays, they were able to turn these chances away from goal time and again. At a point, the gain began to look destined for overtime as the Mercer defense would only bend and not break.
Then, in the 82nd minute, the Paladins finally cracked Mercer’s defense. Senior Hart Zwing passed a ball up the field to Booby Edet who was able to deliver a dangerous cross to the middle. The ball was going in the direction of Lewis Hawke, but with a Mercer defender in the way. In a brilliant play, Hawke lunged past the defender to head the ball into the side of the net, making it impossible for the Mercer goalkeeper to react to.
With the shutout game, the Paladins returned the SoCon title to Furman for the first time since 2007. The game also marked Sven’s 11th shutout of the season, bringing him into a three way tie for the most single season shutouts along with former Paladins Ed Stein and Ronnie Pascale. Furman senior, Clint Ritter, was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.
For now, the Paladins will celebrate but there is more yet to come. Victory in the So Con tournament also guarantees the school a spot in the NCAA tournament. Furman’s last entry to the tournament was in 2011 when the Paladins went 14-4-4 to earn an at-large big to the NCAA. Furman was unable to advance past the first round that year, taking a touch 1-3 loss against the 14 seeded Charlotte 49ers.
This year’s Paladin squad will hope to do better, certainly a possibility if they can maintain their recent run of the play. Looking at Furman’s tournament record so far this season provides encouragement; in seven tournament matches this year Furman has a 6-1 record with a stunning 15 to 2 goal differential.
Their opponent in the first round will be the UAB Blazers who finished the season with an average 11-7-1 record, but good enough to earn them an at-large big to the tournament.
A matchup with UAB should prove interesting, the case of more offensively oriented team facing off against a defensive minded one. In evidence of that UAB has averaged 1.84 goals per game but allowed 1.14 as well. Furman resides on the opposite end of the spectrum averaging only 1.35 goals per game but allowing a stingy 0.65 against.
The two teams have some small history as well, where UAB holds a 3-2-0 edge. The most recent of these games took place in 2001 when the teams again faced off in the first round of the NCAA tournament. UAB took that match 1-0, Furman will try to revenuers the outcome this Thursday at UAB’s West Campus FIeld, kickoff is at 6:30 PM.