Sophomore midfielder/forward Gavin Tasker takes a shot in the second round of the NCAA Div. III men's soccer championship on Nov. 12. (Evan Sayles / The Tufts Daily)

Mieth makes two penalty kick saves, sends team to third round of NCAA tournament

After two full scoreless halves and two overtime periods, the second-round NCAA tournament match entered penalty kicks. Junior goalkeeper Connor Mieth made two consecutive diving saves, blocking Saint Joseph’s first and second attempts, while Tufts made their first two. Ultimately Tufts sealed the victory, outshooting its opponent 4–2.

This game was a defensive battle, as both teams had conceded one goal all season. Saint Joseph’s held the longest shut-out streak in NCAA history with 19 games, until its first-round match in the NCAA tournament on Saturday after the team conceded a goal to Mitchell College.

The Jumbos held the ball for most of the game, probing the Monks’ final third down the left and right flanks. The Jumbos outshot the Monks 7–2 in the first half, while sophomores midfielder/forward Gavin Tasker and midfielder Zach Lane dominated up front. Midway through the first half, the team switched to a 3–5–2 formation, giving much more freedom to the outside midfielders to penetrate down the sidelines. With about eight minutes remaining in the half, a scrum in the Monks’ 18-yard box with senior co-captain and defender Conor Coleman and Lane almost gave the Jumbos their first goal, but the ball was deflected over the crossbar.

“It was mostly us attacking and trying to break [Saint Joseph’s] down this game and we didn’t have to defend,” Coleman said. “[The Monks] were much more defensive and we were much more offensive this game and credit to them they got numbers behind the ball and did a great job of holding us at bay.”

Entering the second half, Tufts continued to maintain possession and control over the game. Right away, senior midfielder Kevin Halliday whipped a corner kick into the Monks’ box where Coleman, leaping over his defender on the far post, headed the ball into the ground, producing a terrific point-blank save from Monks junior goalkeeper Blake Mullen.

Saint Joseph’s saw its first real scoring opportunity a few minutes into the second after a breakaway down the left flank. The Monks were awarded a corner kick, and they lofted the ball into the box but it deflected out of bounds. Senior midfielder Dexter Eichhorst ripped a shot from the upper left corner of the box at 59:49, but Mullen, who stands at 6 feet, 7 inches, swatted it away easily.

With 20 minutes to go in regulation, Saint Josephs broke through the Tufts backline and went in on a breakaway down the left side, but Coleman made an excellently timed tackle dispelling any danger. A few minutes later, Tasker beat three players down the right flank and managed to get a shot off in the box, but Mullen was again up to the task.

Despite outshooting the Monks 17–3, the Jumbos did not sneak one by Mullen during regulation. Mullen made 10 saves in the game, while Mieth was forced to make one miraculous diving save in the first overtime period. Monks first-year forward Quinn Hewitt ripped a shot from the top left corner of the box but Mieth leaped from the near post and, with his left hand, picked the ball out of the upper right corner, making his lone save of the game. Both Tasker and Halliday were responsible for generating five shots each, while Lane had four shots and sophomore midfielder Brett Rojas had three.

“Every time we went to OT this season we finished the game with a win and I think we also looked back on our experiences going into double overtime,” Mieth said. “Last year in the elite eight against Kenyon we won in double overtime so I think we had a lot of experience and a lot of confidence and it was a matter of keeping our composure and sticking to the game plan.”

As the time came off the clock at the end of the second overtime, Mieth began mentally preparing for penalty kicks.

It was the Jumbos’ first penalty shoot-out since 2013, while the Monks saw a penalty kick round last year in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Lane was the first to step up to the spot, and rifled the ball into the left bottom corner while Mullen dove to the right, putting Tufts up 1-0. The Monks then sent their first kicker to the line, who drilled the ball to the left corner where Mieth made a diving save, keeping the score 1–0.

Mieth attributes the win in penalty kicks to the team’s confidence.

“After Lane scored the first one and I saved the first one I knew we had it in the bag,” Mieth said.

Coleman stepped up for the second round, netting the ball in the top right corner just out of reach for Mullen, advancing the Jumbos to a 2–0 advantage. Saint Joseph’s then sent its second kicker, who sent the ball into the right corner, but Mieth guessed correctly, and blocked the shot. Senior defender Matt Zinner did not score in the third round, as Mullen saved his shot on the right side. The Monks finally netted one down the right side, ending the third round with the Jumbos up 2–1.

“I knew that we were able impose our will on them and overwhelm them with our confidence. As soon as the final whistle blew I went right into a zone knowing it was a big opportunity and it was my game to take,” said Mieth. “I’m sure the guys taking the PK’s on Saint Joe’s are a lot more scared than I am so I’m just going to use confidence and take it to them.”

First-year midfielder Travis van Brewer stepped up for Tufts in the fourth round, aiming the ball at the top middle of the net while Mullen dove right. The Monks then scored down the middle, ending the fourth round 3–2.

Entering the fifth and final round, Eichhorst stepped up to the line with the game in his hands, and he sent the ball to the right bottom corner while Mullen dove left, advancing the Jumbos to the elite eight.

Coach Joshua Shapiro was named NESCAC Coach of the Year just before the second round, while Coleman was named NESCAC Player of the Year and to the All-NESCAC First Team. Coleman is the first Tufts men’s soccer player to receive Player of the Year. Junior co-captain defender Sterling Weatherbie was named to the second team, and senior midfielder Tyler Kulscar was named first-team.

“I did not anticipate this at all and it feels amazing, but the way I look at it is it was more of a team award they awarded our team for being the best in the conference, and I was lucky to get it, but I could name five or six other guys that deserve that award just as much as I do,” Coleman said.

Tufts will face Johns Hopkins on Nov. 18 in the third round of the NCAA tournament.

Arlo Moore-Bloom contributed reporting to this article.

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