UNH soccer: Wildcats top Dartmouth in PKs, will face Indiana in Sweet 16

  • UNH goalkeeper Andrew Pesci (far right, lifted up) is swarmed by teammates after helping the Wildcats defeat Dartmouth in PKs on Sunday in Hanover. JOEY WALKER / UNH Athletics

  • UNH freshman Josh Bauer of Bedford dribbles by a pair of Dartmouth players during Sunday’s NCAA Tournament matchup in Hanover. The Wildcats won in PKs and will travel to face No. 2 Indiana in the Sweet 16 on Saturday. Joey Walker / UNH Athletics

Monitor staff
Monday, November 20, 2017

HANOVER –  Before the shootout, New Hampshire keeper Andrew Pesci had only one thing on his mind.

“I kind of just tell myself I need to save one,” Pesci said. “And that’s what happened, so I got lucky tonight.”

Pesci saved one PK, No. 15 Dartmouth missed another and UNH turned a 0-0 draw into a 4-1 penalty kick shootout win on Sunday in the second round of the NCAA men’s soccer tournament.

The Wildcats (13-3-5) won the first NCAA tourney game in school history on Thursday with a 3-0 first-round decision over Fairfield. They bested in-state rival Dartmouth, a team that has been to 11 of the last 14 NCAA tournaments, for a second time this season on Sunday. And now they are in the Sweet 16 and will face to No. 2 Indiana (16-0-5) on the road Saturday night.

“This is what we’ve been working for for two-and-a-half years,” said Marc Hubbard, the third-year UNH coach who inherited a team that went 6-10-1 in 2014. “It’s been a lot of hard work from the coaching staff, and the players have had to adjust with a lot of new players coming into the program the last three years, almost 29 new players ... it’s a lot of effort on our part as a group to build that culture and what we want to try and accomplish and how we want to go about it in such a short of period of time.”

The new players loomed large in the shootout – three who scored are in their first year at UNH and the fourth is in his first year of playing time. Willis Griffith, a graduate student from Amherst who transferred from Northwestern this year, converted the first PK at a cold and windy Burnham Field. Dartmouth’s Wyatt Omsberg scored to make it 1-1, but Dante Lamb, a transfer from Rhode Island, answered to give UNH a 2-1 edge.

Dartmouth’s Henry Baldwin took the next shot, but Pesci dove to his right to make that one save he told himself he needed to make.

“I don’t think about it. I kind of just react and try to make the best decision I can,” said Pesci, the Windham native who came to UNH from Southern New Hampshire University in 2015 along with Hubbard. “Sometimes the kicker does a good job and sells the other way, which happened on the first one, but I came out on top this time.”

Josh Bauer, a redshirt freshman from Bedford, capitalized on that momentum with his PK conversion to put the ’Cats up, 3-1, and the score stayed there when Dartmouth’s Braden Salvati sailed the next shot over the crossbar. That meant UNH could win on the next shot, and the Wildcats had the right player stepping to the PK spot – Robin Schmidt.

Schmidt, a first-year player from Germany, was named the America East Striker of the Year this season and scored two goals in the first-round win against Fairfield on Thursday. Fittingly, he ended Sunday’s contest when his PK hit the bottom of the crossbar and caromed over the line.

“Take away nothing form UNH because I think they were excellent, but to play well and lose is tough,” Dartmouth Coach Chad Riley said, “and PKs maybe does feel like it puts a little salt in the wound with it.”

There’s no question Dartmouth played well, and the Big Green held a 7-2 advantage in shots in the first half. Forward Eduvie Ikoba, a First Team All-Ivy League selection this fall, missed a free header in the 26th minute. Pesci (three saves) had to make a save on the doorstep in the 33rd minute, and moments later Schmidt had to save a ball from going in after a deflection off a corner kick.

“That’s a tough team to defend on set pieces, a big team, and when they get in a rhythm with throws and corner kicks, as you could see in the first half, they can score some goals,” Hubbard said. “So we had to break through that storm a little bit and I thought we settled down very nicely in the second half.”

In the first half, the Wildcats possessed the ball, but mostly in the middle third of the field and in their own end. In the second half, UNH pushed its possession game into the final third and created chances.

Antonio Colacci earned New Hampshire a corner kick in the 56th minute. Exeter’s Jacob Gould was just wide with a shot in the 59th minute that came on the end of sustained possession around the Dartmouth box. Forwards Jack Doherty and Schmidt played a pretty give-and-go in the box in the 64th minute. A shot from Kyle Brewster earned a corner, and some foot skills on the end line from Conrad Cheng earned another.

Despite all that, it was the Big Green who had the best chance of the second half when Yima Asom sent a cross to Dawson McCartney, who was crashing the far post with an open net in front of him and just eight minutes left on the clock. With Pesci out of the picture it looked like a goal, but Bauer arrived at the last second to stop the shot.

“I didn’t have any other choice but to just fall into the goal line and make myself as big as I could across the goal line,” Bauer said. “Luckily he shot it low and it deflected off my foot.”

UNH dominated the first 10-minute overtime period with several shots that were blocked by brave Dartmouth defenders, one shot from Colacci that rolled wide and a nice cross from Schmidt that somehow missed two UNH players. Dartmouth had the best chance of the second overtime when Asom was knocked down in the box, but no penalty was given.

After that, it was on to the shootout, where Pesci saved one and his teammates took care of the rest.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341, tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)