BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Despite taking a 1-0 lead early in the second half, the Bucknell Bison stormed back to score the tying goal in the 76th minute before winning it only 3:10 into overtime, handing the Lehigh men’s soccer team a 2-1 loss on Saturday evening at the Ulrich Sports Complex. Despite the loss, the Mountain Hawks finish the season as the No. 2 seed and will face American in the Patriot League Semifinals on Friday at Colgate.
“It was a hard game to play because there wasn’t a lot at stake for us,” said Lehigh head coach Dean Koski. “We wanted to compete and get the win. With a team like Bucknell, as good as they are and with something to play for, it was hard to manage their pressure. Now we move onto the new season.”
Roles were reversed from last season, when the Mountain Hawks defeated Bucknell in the final regular season game of the year to clinch a Patriot League Tournament berth. That game also ended in overtime.
With Colgate’s 1-0 win over American earlier on Saturday, Lehigh knew they were locked into the No. 2 seed, win, lose or draw. What was still up in the air was the final postseason spot, between Navy, Bucknell and Lafayette.
Saturday was also Senior Day with defender James Graf, goalkeeper Jonathan Nydell and midfielder Matt Thaeder playing their final home games in the Brown & White.
“Anytime it’s Senior Day and the seniors are on the field, it makes it all that more special,” said Koski. “They competed well. This season is about the seniors. We’re glad to get another game for them, and hopefully more.”
Lehigh nearly took a 1-0 lead in the 21st minute when junior Neal Melchionni unleashed a shot, but Bucknell defender Steven Avena made the defensive save before it crossed the goal line, kicking it out of harm’s way.
A defensive affair continued into the second half with the game still scoreless. The Mountain Hawks broke the ice with the game’s first goal at 52:49 when junior Kevin Strunk was fouled inside the box to give Graf a penalty kick opportunity, which he converted for his third goal of the season.
Bucknell turned up the pressure, desperately needing a win for a chance at the postseason. The Bison nearly evened the score at 63:06 when Ryan Sappington’s shot barely trickled wide of the far post. They did net the tying score just over 12 minutes later when Andrew Powell headed a pass over to CK Kumah, who unleashed a rocket from the corner of the box that found the top right corner of the goal at 75:41.
The Bison continued their persistent offensive pressure, leading the second half shot count, 11-3, but the teams went to overtime tied at one.
It only took 3:10 in the sudden victory period before Bucknell’s Mayowa Alli put home the game-winner, following a succession of saves, first, by Nydell, then by junior defender Jordie Ciuffetelli. The Mountain Hawks couldn’t stop the third attempt however, falling for the first time in league play since the opener on Sept. 24 at Colgate.
Bucknell led the final shot count, 21-7, while it also had six corner kicks to Lehigh’s five. Nydell finished with six saves while Bison goalkeeper Marc Hartman made two.
The Mountain Hawks now look ahead to the Patriot League Tournament next weekend at Colgate. They will face American in the league semifinals on Friday with the winner advancing to face either Bucknell or Colgate in Sunday’s championship game. Check back to Lehighsports.com for complete game times, when they are released.
“The Patriot League Men’s Soccer Tournament is the toughest to qualify for because of the parity in the league,” said Koski. “Being in the playoffs is huge. It’s a new season. American is a very good team and will be chomping at the bit to get a shot at us.”