St. Francis soccer takes third NEC title in four years
Hauer’s Penalty Kick Thrusts Dynastic SFC Squad into NCAAs
The St. Francis Brooklyn men’s soccer squad stamped itself as a legitimate Northeast Conference dynasty on Sunday afternoon at Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The Terriers outlasted St. Francis (Pennsylvania), 1-0, in double overtime on junior Lukas Hauer’s title-clinching penalty kick to seal up the Remsen Street school’s third league championship in four years.
“This is what we’ve been working for the whole year, this feels amazing,” said senior midfielder Salvatore Barone after the Terriers completed an unbeaten run through the conference with their fourth double-OT victory of the campaign.
“It’s amazing [to win the NEC again],” noted Barone, who scored the game winner in Friday’s 1-0 semifinal win over Sacred Heart here at BPP and was tabbed NEC Tournament MVP. “But my goal is the second round [of the NCAA Tournament]. I want to keep going, we’re not done yet.”
They won’t be if they find a way to knock off Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire on Thursday evening and make their way upstate to face eighth-seeded Syracuse Sunday in the next round.
But first things first.
This team, spearheaded by head coach Tom Giovatto, went a virtually unblemished 8-0-1 against NEC opponents this year without yielding a single goal.
That defensive prowess was on display again during the tournament, which was played at BPP after the Terriers knocked off defending NEC champion and Downtown rival LIU-Brooklyn in the regular-season finale.
Barone’s second-half tally Friday, off a brilliant feed from junior defender and fellow Brooklynite Dominick Falanga, was more than enough for SFC to advance to the championship match.
Junior goalie Roberto Bazzichetto made three saves in a contest that saw Sacred Heart hold a 15-5 advantage in shots.
Bazzichetto only had to stop two shots Sunday, but the Terriers weren’t able to find the back of the net until senior forward Yussuf Olajide, who scored a pair of double OT game-winners back in September, was pulled down in the box with just over 3 1/2 minutes remaining in the second extra session.
Sensing his club was on the verge of capturing our borough’s fourth straight NEC crown, Giovatto called on Hauer, who he claims he’d never seen miss a penalty, up against Sacred Heart goalie Marcus Rojas.
Hauer didn’t let his coach down, beating Rojas with a mighty blast into the lower left corner of the net, setting off a wild celebration on the Terriers’ home field.
“It was my first goal this season, I waited for a good moment, right?” Hauer noted with a wry smile. “It’s unbelievable, but we’ve practiced penalties for two weeks and I was confident to take it.”
“I got very emotional after Lukas scored, that just goes to show how much this meant for us,” added Falanga, an All-NEC First Team defender. “We’re a very emotional team in a sense where we’re able to control it. It’s more about wanting to win and winning the right way. We’re a team that every game means a lot to us.”
The title was the Terriers’ seventh overall and marked the second time they’ve captured three NEC championships in a four-year span, a feat they first accomplished between 1995-99.
It was also the first time SFC won both the regular-season and conference titles in the same year.
“This team is pretty familiar to the team that won the title in 2014,” Giovatto said, referring to the Terriers’ thrilling double-OT championship match win at St. Francis (Pennsylvania) two years ago.
“We’ve had about 10 guys graduate from last year’s team — it’s just about hard work and staying together; this is a really tight group,” he added.
Dating to a 2-1 loss at George Washington on Sept. 28, the Terriers have held their last nine opponents scoreless, holding a stunning 14-0 advantage in goals over that stretch.
“Even though the team has a really good defense, I have to make sure I’m focused for 90 minutes and even extra times,” Bazzichetto said following Sunday’s nail-biting win.
“It can happen any second where the other team could penetrate the defense very easily, things can change. But I congratulate all of our team, especially our defensive players.”
The Terriers hope to continue their stinginess in the opening round of the NCAA College Cup against Dartmouth, which is on a dynastic run of its own after capturing its third consecutive Ivy League championship with Saturday’s 2-0 blanking of Brown.
“Perfect season, I can’t write it off any better than that,” Falanga said.
Unless, of course, this perfect season continues beyond Thursday.
In local pro sports action, the Brooklyn Nets suffered their second loss on Tuesday, falling to the Los Angeles Lakers, 125-118, despite getting 30 points and 10 rebounds from Brook Lopez.
Brooklyn (4-7) fell to 1-3 on its five-game road trip, which concludes Friday night in Oklahoma City.
Bojan Bogdanovic added 29 points for the Nets, who looked considerably more competitive following an ugly 32-points loss in Los Angeles to the Clippers Monday night.
“We bounced back from last night’s tough loss,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “We just have to sustain it a little longer and do a little better on the defensive end.”
The team will be back at the Barclays Center Sunday for a 3:30 p.m., tip-off against Portland.
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