BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh men’s soccer team earned its third shutout in four Patriot League matches on Saturday, taking care of Holy Cross by a 2-0 score at the Ulrich Sports Complex. Junior Neal Melchionni provided the offense with both Lehigh goals as the Mountain Hawks improved to 5-5-2 overall and 2-1-1 in the Patriot League.
"It was certainly a big win, we needed the three points," Lehigh head coach Dean Koski said. "I thought we came out relatively flat in the first half and we really needed to make some adjustments. Moving Neal into the center of the park was the right decision for Neal and for us because he came up big in the second half."
Melchionni potted his first of the game in the 51st minute, finishing a cross from senior Matt Thaeder with a powerful volley past Holy Cross keeper Evan Polanik. Melchionni then completed the double with an insurance tally in the 74th minute off a feed from sophomore Austin Decker. Decker played the ball between two defenders and into space, allowing Melchionni to run on to it, take a touch to his left, and curl a shot around Polanik from just inside the box to make it 2-0.
"In the first half we came out a little slow, we looked a little lackadaisical," Melchionni admitted. "In the second half, everyone picked it up. We started keeping the ball a little more going at goal, and then Thaeder played an awesome ball and I just happened to be at the back post waiting for it. After that, we kept the momentum going and everyone worked really hard. It was a real team effort."
Melchionni nearly opened the scoring early in the first half when his blast from the top of the box sailed just wide of the left post. Substitute Ayo Olasupo also came close to a breakthrough near the end of the half when his cross from the right flank nearly swerved into the net due to high winds blowing across the pitch. Polanik was able to touch the ball over the bar, bringing up a corner, after which Lehigh again threatened when junior Kevin Strunk headed the cross just wide.
The Mountain Hawks held an 8-3 shot advantage at the half, with both Polanik and Lehigh keeper Jonathan Nydell recording two saves in the frame. Lehigh then proceeded to outshoot the Crusaders, 8-1, in the second half to record a 16-4 edge in shots for the match. Nydell earned his league-leading sixth shutout of the year and lowered his goals against average to 0.97.
The victory gives Lehigh seven points in the Patriot League standings with three league matches remaining. The Crusaders fell to 3-8-2 with the defeat and 0-3-1 in league play.
"If we didn’t get a point today, we would have been scrambling in the last three games," Melchionni added. "Right now, it puts us in a good position if we come out and play this way again."
The Mountain Hawks return to action on Tuesday at NJIT at 7 p.m. Lehigh’s next league match is scheduled for Saturday, October 23 when American visits the Ulrich Sports Complex at 7 p.m.