That dream is still alive for one final weekend after a remarkable late rally before 2,012 fans at Belson Stadium in Queens on Saturday night, propelled the Red Storm to an exhilarating 3-2 overtime victory, and a trip to its fourth College Cup in program history.
Indiana, which finished its season 14-7-3, grabbed a 1-0 halftime lead on junior defenseman Ofori Sarkodie’s first goal of the season, a shot from 8 yards out, 35:12 into the match.
In the second half, the Hoosiers, who reached the quarterfinals with wins over St. Louis and Michigan, extended their lead to 2-0 at the 71:37 mark, on a close-range shot by midfielder Eric Alexander.
At that point, and about ten minutes later, things looked very bleak for St. John’s, but the Red Storm players were buoyed by the encouragement from their head coach, Dr. Dave Masur, the winningest coach in the history of the program. At halftime Masur, coaching his 18th season at St. John’s, stressed playing a full 90 minutes even If his team would fall behind 2-0.
Masur’s belief in his team paid off.
Swedish junior defenseman Joel Gustafsson lifted the spirits of the entire Red Storm team, slicing the Indiana lead in half, 2-1, scoring on a close-range shot at the 81:17 mark after a forward pass from junior midfielder Nelson Becerra.
Just 6:40 later, sophomore Norwegian midfielder Sverre Wegge Gundhus sent the game to overtime, scoring at the 87:57 mark on a shot from 4 yards out after a pass by Brooklyn freshman forward Walter Hines.
Later, in the first overtime, Becerra provided the game-winner on a penalty kick. Becerra, St. John’s leading goal scorer this season, netted his eighth goal of the season, his third on a penalty kick, shooting low and left, putting St. John’s up for good, 3-2.
Masur left it open as to who would take the penalty kick, and he was obviously glad that it was Becerra who stepped up and took the ball. “Nelson always wants to take penalty kicks. [He has] the kind of confidence you need in that situation,” Masur said.
Becerra felt the anxiety of the moment, yet never wavered, saying “It was a lot of pressure. I made the crowd keep it quiet for a little while. It was too much. Before I scored, I was really nervous, but it goes away right before you hit it. I stepped up and I grabbed the ball, and I wanted to hit it. It was a great feeling. I never felt like that before in my life.”
Masur commented on the fortitude his team displayed to fight through adversity to get the win, saying “Some unbelievable perseverance, just an unbelievable victory for all the guys on the team. I’m really proud of them.”
Sophomore midfielder Ale Ivo, whose fresh legs off the bench late, helped fuel the comeback, might be the most grateful Red Storm player to pull out the victory since he hails from Fort Worth, Texas, and will play in front of a lot of friends and family in the College Cup. Ivo summed up the feelings of many of his teammates in the final moments, saying “We knew the game wasn’t over and we just kept fighting.”
With the win, St. John’s competed its first-ever perfect season at home, going 12-0-0, but it’s much bigger goal is of course now, to take home a national title.
Joining third-seeded St. John’s (19-2-3) in the College Cup, to be played at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas, will be top-seeded Wake Forest (23-1-1), second-seeded Maryland (21-3-0), and tournament Cinderella, thirteenth-seeded North Carolina (14-7-1).
St. John’s, which prior to ousting Indiana, defeated Boston University and fourteenth-seeded UC-Irvine, will play Maryland, which advances to the College Cup after victories over George Mason, California, and seventh-seeded Creighton.
Wake Forest, which has been impressive in the tournament with shutout wins over William & Mary, 1-0, sixteenth-seeded Dartmouth, 7-0, and eighth-seeded South Florida, 5-0, will face Atlantic Coast Conference rival North Carolina, which posted upset wins over Jacksonville and Illinois-Chicago before beating Northwestern.
The two national semifinals games, which will each be televised on both ESPN2 and ESPNU, will take place on Friday, December 12th, with one semifinal game to be played at 5:30pm EST and the other to follow, at 8pm EST. The national championship game, also to be played at Pizza Hut Park, will kick off at 1pm EST on Sunday, December 14th, and will be seen on ESPN2