Mavs clinch home game in RMAC soccer playoffs
The Mavericks had reason to celebrate Friday night, but the Colorado Mesa University men’s soccer team has more it wants to accomplish.
Colorado Mesa secured at least a first-round home game in the RMAC tournament with a 3-1 victory over nemesis Metro State in front of 471 fans at Walker Field.
The Mavericks, though, could earn a bye into the semifinals and move one step closer to an NCAA tournament bid.
“It’s huge,” senior Brandon Burton said. “Did you see the crowd tonight? They were awesome. As long as we keep winning, the crowd will keep showing up. It will be tough for teams to come in and win with this crowd.”
Colorado Mesa (10-4-3, 8-2-3 RMAC) moved into second place in the RMAC with its fifth straight win. The Mavericks can’t catch Regis (11-2-1, 10-2-1 RMAC) for first place, but they can finish second and get a first-round RMAC tournament bye with a win or tie Sunday against Regis.
No. 25 Metro State (10-5-3, 8-4-2 RMAC) is one point behind the Mavs. Mines (10-5-1, 8-5 RMAC) is one win behind Mesa in fourth place.
“We’re happy, but we still have another important game left,” CMU coach Josh Pittman said. “We feel like we’ve been one of the stronger teams in conference all year. We want to go far. We’re not going to be happy with just getting in the tournament and being there.
“Our goal is to win the (RMAC) tournament and get in the NCAA tournament. We feel like this group is strong enough to do a lot of great things. That’s what we want to do.”
The Mavericks hope to get one of the three NCAA tournament bids out of the South Central Region. They weren’t ranked in the last NCAA regional rankings more than one week ago, but they were ranked fourth in the coaches regional poll.
Mesa took a 1-0 lead Friday night in the 20th minute when Alan Hernandez buried a pass from Marco Escobar in the left corner of the net. It was Hernandez’s fourth goal of the season and Escobar’s school record 14th career assist.
“I was dribbling, and he opened up,” Escobar said. “I flipped it in, and he had a nice finish.”
Mesa took four shots, three on goal, in the first half. Mesa is 7-0 when leading at halftime and 9-0-2 when scoring the first goal.
On the other end, CMU goalkeeper Micah Conrads might have been a little bored. The Roadrunners didn’t take one shot.
“That’s been the staple of our team, the defense and organization,” Pittman said. “Second half they put a ton of pressure on us. It opened up and got exciting, but not exciting as a coach. We tried to weather the storm.”
The Roadrunners were more aggressive in the second half, with 11 shots, but Mesa’s defense was up for the challenge, forcing all but one off the net.
Escobar gave the Mavericks a 2-0 lead when he collected a loose ball and scored in the 77th minute. It was his third goal of the season.
“Stevie (Palma) was pressuring,” Escobar said. “I had plenty of time, so I took a touch and hit it high. That touch calmed me down, and I focused on the net.”
Six minutes later, Metro State’s Andy Lopez scored on a pass from Pierce Galan.
Mesa didn’t let the Roadrunners back in it, though, scoring 58 seconds later when Burton beat a defender to a loose ball and put it in the left corner for his second goal of the season.
“I knew as soon as I beat the defender down the line, I was going to the goal,” Burton said. “I needed to score that one to put them away.”
The Mavericks netted two of three shots on goal in the second half.
“We had some good finishing from some key players,” Pittman said. “Getting our forwards to finish goals was a challenge at the beginning of the season. Now, these guys are working their butts off. If they keep doing that, we’ll be successful.”