Dayton, Ohio – Only 34 seconds were needed in Mason’s second consecutive overtime contest, as junior Timi Mulgrew finished off a pass from Alex Herrera with a header to the right corner of the net, sending the Patriots to the Atlantic 10 Tournament championship match with a 3-2 victory over VCU on Friday night.
After gaining possession in the beginning of overtime, Herrera was able to was able to obtain control of the ball just outside the right of the box and loft a pass inside, where Mulgrew charged onto the ball and put a head on it to send it into the right corner of the net in the 91st minute. The victory for Mason sends them to the A-10 Tournament final match on Sunday, where they will face either #1 St. Louis or #4 La Salle.
Despite the output of goals, Friday’s match was similar to Mason’s contest on Thursday against St. Joseph’s in that strong defensive play and key goaltending stops were keys to the game. Only a combined five shots were on goal by both teams in 90+ minutes of play, with Mason taking the 3-2 advantage and the overall shot advantage, 17-14.
VCU had control of the match early in the first half, sending several shots towards the net but none on target until the Rams scored their first goal in the 19th minute of play. After drawing a free kick attempt, Rams midfielder Nate Shiffman landed his kick inside the box where it bounced to within six yards of the net and was volleyed in by Dennis Castillo for the 1-0 lead.
After more consistent pressure from VCU, Mason finally gained possession of the ball inside the VCU offensive zone for the equalizing goal in the 27th minute. Senior Julio Arjona executed a crossing pass from right to left just outside of the box, where it landed near the left post and was kicked in by Zach Herstek to tie up the game at one apiece. Shots were nearly even, with a slight 9-8 advantage for Mason as both teams headed into halftime.
More back and forward defensive play began the second half as both sides fought for opportunities to break the tie. A chance finally came for the Patriots in the 64th minute when Ryan Harmouche was left open outside the middle of the box. Harmouche shot a hard, bouncing ground ball from 20 yards out that found its way past VCU goalkeeper Andrew Wells and into the right corner for the 2-1 lead. Wells made two saves on the night and allowed all three goals for VCU.
VCU started to bring up the pace of the game afterwords and spent plenty of time in Mason’s offensive zone. The pressure by the Rams finally paid off in the 80th minute when VCU was able to earn and convert on a corner kick. Shiffman took the kick for the Rams and placed the ball in front of the near side post, where Kharlton Belmar put a head on the ball and sent it past goalkeeper Steffen Kraus to even the score at two with less than 10 minutes to play. Kraus made three saves in the match, including a diving stop early in the first half that prevented VCU from taking a commanding 2-0 lead.
The Atlantic 10 Tournament championship match will take place on Sunday, November 18 at 1 p.m at Baujan Field in Dayton, Ohio. The Patriots await the winner of Friday night’s match between St. Louis and La Salle.