The Oakland University men’s soccer team’s season came to an abrupt halt Friday afternoon at the hands of UMKC in the Summit League Tournament. After an undefeated season against conference opponents in which nine Oakland players earned All-Summit League distinctions, the team could not complete a second-half comeback and lost to fourth-seeded UMKC 2-1.
The game started out with both teams seeming to feel the other team out, with neither taking big chances. UMKC got the first quality scoring opportunity of the match five minutes into the game when one their players got free kick inside of the penalty area but missed the goal with his shot. UMKC had another chance a few minutes later but Oakland goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt stopped the shot at point-blank range. Hildebrandt earned the Summit League Defensive Player of Year award for consistently making stops like this one.
For the next twenty minutes of the first half, Oakland put pressure on the UMKC goalie. Makesi Lewis, Stefan St. Louis and Johnny Dreshaj all recorded shots that looked like they had a real chance at going in. Oakland Coach Eric Pogue, who in his first year as head coach recently earned the Summit League Coach of Year award, said he thought his team missed opportunities to score in the first half.
“Anytime you give away chances early and you give the other team the opportunity to stay in the game, you can’t leave chances like that out on the field,” Pogue said. “You put away one or two of those and maybe it’s a different game.”
As halftime neared, Oakland’s pressure on UMKC faded, and the Kangaroos capitalized. UMKC’s forwards got in behind Oakland’s defense and fired a clean shot that Hildebrandt saved. The shot, however, bounced off Hildebrandt’s chest and UMKC’s Bryan Perez knocked in the rebound.
Hildebradt was noticeably upset after giving up the rebound, but his coach, a former standout goalie himself, had some words of consolation for the All-League keeper.
“The first goal that they scored Mitch would like to have back, but he has saved all us year,” Pogue said. “They are just a good team and they have a couple special players on their team.”
The second half started with Oakland again applying the pressure, and they were rewarded in the 55th minute when Sophomore Jonathan Evans picked up a loose ball in the box and blasted a shot past the UMKC keeper. It was Evans’ first goal of the season and the first of his collegiate career.
After Evans’ tying goal, both teams appeared to be playing for overtime, with neither one applying too much pressure on the other. Tensions started to grow though, as both teams were tackling hard and players were going off the field due to injury.
With five minutes to go in regulation, UMKC’s Coady Andrews put a header just over the out-stretched arms of Hildebrandt and into the net.
Oakland battled hard for the last five minutes, but to no avail as the top-seeded Grizzlies found themselves eliminated from the Summit League Tournament, ending their season.
“It’s one thing when you lose and you don’t play with any heart or effort, but that was certainly not the case with our guys,” Pogue said.
“We want to gauge ourselves by winning championships and getting to the NCAA Tournament,” Pogue said. “I think this team overachieved from the get-go, with a bunch of young players, and they worked hard all season and believed in themselves. This one hurts, but we will lick our wounds and get out there working hard after the New Year to make sure this does not happen again.”