Pictured is Justin Festa on Saturday against Spring Arbor
Robbie Barnhill stood between the goalposts on Saturday night with the weight of Grace’s NAIA hopes on his shoulders.
After 110 minutes of scoreless soccer, the Crossroads League semifinals with Spring Arbor came down to a penalty shootout to determine who would advance.
The Cougars (11-6-3) converted their first four spot kicks while Grace had one try saved. Spring Arbor stepped up for a shot to win with only Barnhill in the way.
The junior goalkeeper guessed correctly, dove to his right and made the save of the season on Spring Arbor’s fifth PK attempt. The student section, straddling the sideline, erupted with joyous relief.
Josiah Osborn took Grace’s next shot and converted to put the Lancers (12-5-2) ahead 5-4. Spring Arbor’s sixth shot sailed wide of the net to secure Grace’s advancement, sending the student rushing onto the field in celebration.
The Lancers will play on Saturday in the Crossroads League Tournament championship match, traveling to No. 1-seed Indiana Wesleyan. Grace defeated IWU 3-1 on Sept. 26 during the regular season.
“The guys played with guts tonight. They had to overcome some serious adversity, and they just kept going. Everybody stepped up tonight,” said Grace head coach Matt Hotchkin. “The guys were focused all week. They came hungry to practice this week, ready to shore up every last detail. I thought we were prepared and ready for tonight.”
The first half was uneventful compared to what was to come. The teams took turns building their possession attack. Only four shots were attempted between the sides in the opening 45 minutes.
Dominic Harris had the only shot on goal before halftime in the 31st minute.
The opportunities began in earnest in the second half. Grace had 11 second-half shots while Spring Arbor fired off seven of its own. Harris had one of the better chances in the match, breaking loose for a one-on-one with the Cougars’ goalkeeper. But SAU’s goalie snuffed out Harris’s move by diving onto the ball.
In the 64th minute, Josiah Osborn’s corner kick produced a pair of shots. Justin Festa’s low drive was blocked, and Colin Cape’s effort went wide.
The game took an interesting turn in the 74th minute. Grace thought Thomas Tydeman was fouled on a breakaway but no foul was given. Instead, the Lancers were given a pair of yellow cards for dissent.
Less than 10 minutes later, Cape was issued a straight red card for a late challenge. Grace was forced to play the remainder of the regulation and overtime 11v10.
The overtime periods were relatively tame. Spring Arbor had three shots in the first 10-minute session, and the Lancers tried two shots in the second OT to no avail.
Robbie Barnhill made four saves in 110 minutes of action to earn the shutout. He was defended by the backline of Jon Sands, Jon Christensen, Festa and Osborn.
Grace outshot Spring Arbor 13-10 in the match. Tydeman fired four shots and two on goal, and Harris had three shots on goal.
“We seem to be peaking at the right time, and I’m excited to see what this team can accomplish,” Hotchkin said.