Grace’s men’s soccer team may have outshot Indiana Wesleyan on Saturday night, but the Wildcats saved their most important shot for last.
Indiana Wesleyan netted in the 85th minute to defeat the Lancers 2-1 in the 2015 Crossroads League Tournament championship.
“I’m proud of the work that the guys did tonight. I thought they played with heart and class. We struggled early in the match, and I’d give the first half to IWU. I thought we controlled the second half with the exception of about five minutes,” said Grace head coach Matt Hotchkin. “We had some very good opportunities that we didn’t convert tonight. Some nights those go in, and tonight they didn’t. But these guys represented Grace well.”
Grace, playing for the program’s first NAIA National Tournament bid since 1982, erased a one-goal lead at halftime and nearly netted the go-ahead goal in the second half.
The first half was evenly played. The teams were each credited with four shots, but the Wildcats (15-5) struck first. IWU sent a deep free kick into the penalty box in the 22nd minute, and the ball remained untouched and found its way into the back of Grace’s net.
Kyle Hamlin had a pair of chances in the first half. The first was a blast from outside the 18-yard box that was saved in the eighth minute. The second came late in the half when a rebounded effort from close range went wide of the net.
The Lancers (12-6-2) came out as the aggressors in the second half and dominated time on the ball. Grace scored its equalizer at the 50:41 mark. Damon Binkley drove along the right sideline and crossed a ball into a dangerous position. An IWU defender deflected the cross into his own net to level the score at 1-1.
Hector Torres and Josiah Osborn each had shots saved in the final 15 minutes, but Grace’s best chance at a winner came in the 77th minute. Nakilee Weni gained position at the top of the penalty box and attempted an acrobatic bicycle kick. His effort beat the outstretched gloves of IWU’s goalkeeper, but the shot clanged off the crossbar.
The Wildcats found their winner in the 85th minute, cleaning up a loose ball in the penalty box. Binkley tried a last-minute shot from 20 yards out, but his effort was saved.
“It’s tough to lose a big game like that, pick yourself back up, put it in perspective, learn from it, grow and move onto what is next. I think we have a great group of men,” Hotchkin said. “Now we have a big week ahead as we work to earn an NCCAA region title. I know these guys will bounce back.”
As a team, Grace outshot IWU 9-6 with five shots on goal. The Lancers also had a 6-4 advantage in corner kicks.
The Lancers will transition to qualifying for the NCCAA National Championships. Grace hosts Oakland City on Tuesday at 4 p.m. in the Midwest region semifinals. The championship game will be played on Saturday at Grace if the Lancers beat Oakland City.